FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Kjipuktuk (Halifax, NS) - On Tuesday, October 19th, Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Steve Craig introduced Bill 24 proposing significant amendments to the Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act (the Act), specifically fundamental changes to the composition of the Aquaculture Review Board. Ostensibly to fast track the approval process and ensure Board members’ availability for hearings, the number of commissioners the Minister can appoint would be increased from three to 10. Initially, the Board Chair could empower as few as a single commissioner to hear and approve multiple applications. The Bill passed Second Reading with little debate, and then went through Law Amendments on Monday, October 25th, at which point the minimum number of Board members that could oversee a hearing was bumped up to three again. The Healthy Bays Network was represented by five submissions at Law Amendments, including written and oral statements.
“The ink was barely dry on the new Minister’s mandate letter charging him with the task of consulting ‘key stakeholders regarding the open-net pen aquaculture licensing process,’” observed Healthy Bays Network Chair Brian Muldoon. “And what have key non-industry stakeholder groups and community organizations heard from the Minister regarding Bill 24’s proposed changes? Nothing, unfortunately.”
Muldoon asks: “What could be more central to the licence approval process than the structure of the Board itself? Is this an indication of how the Minister and his department intends to deal with community stakeholders going forward? We certainly hope not.”
Over and above the changes proposed in Bill 24, the Healthy Bays Network questions other aspects of the licensing process including the factors used to determine how the Board grants intervenor status, how the Board can hear applications for license expansions which have been a fait accompli for years in contravention of regulatory procedures, or the composition of the Board itself. Are key stakeholders adequately represented or does the Board have the necessary expertise to evaluate impacts on endangered species like populations of Atlantic salmon? HBN questions the necessity of Bill 24’s changes when, despite the dramatic increase in the size of the Board, there is a lack of provisions to ensure consistency in its decisions at present. The Act stipulates that a comprehensive review of NS aquaculture regulations must take place every five years. The Province is now more than a year overdue in conducting this review. Why is Bill 24 under rush now when this critical regulatory review process, which would provide a structured consultative forum to discuss these changes, has not yet happened?
Regarding the haste Muldoon concluded: ”The Minister blames the backlog of applications on a flawed adjudicative process. We’re open to discussing adjustments for low impact projects like properly scaled shellfish or seaweed operations. But we are troubled that a majority of open-net finfish applications currently before the Board are non-compliant sites, after years of slack enforcement under previous governments. We need to sort out the regulatory problems in front of us, so that the ARB can make a fair decision, before we start charging ahead.”
The Ecology Action Centre is a participating member of the Healthy Bays Network (HBN), a province-wide alliance of more than 10,000 people involving dozens of communities and stewardship programs committed to protecting and restoring the health of our bays. The HBN supports effective regulation of shellfish and other types of low impact, regenerative aquaculture but opposes any expansion of finfish aquaculture in the bays and inlets of NS.
For more information, please contact:
Brian Muldoon, Chair, Healthy Bays Network
Karen Traversy, Steering Director, Healthy Bays Network