By Shannon Arnold (EAC) and Karen Wristen (SeaChoice)
Feb. 10, 2021
In fits and starts, the federal government has been working for nearly three years on a single law to govern aquaculture, with the current round of consultations scheduled to close on February 12, 2021. At the moment, all indications are that the draft Aquaculture Act is headed nowhere that actually protects our marine ecosystems or safeguards opportunities for sustainable coastal jobs of the future.
On the East Coast, we saw potential in this proposed law to establish minimum national standards to protect marine biodiversity from the significant environmental threats caused by ocean-based open net-pen fish farming. Such standards would be welcome in Atlantic Canada where the regulatory approaches are inconsistent, opaque, and heavy on ministerial discretion.
On the West Coast, we fully expected the Aquaculture Act to put flesh on the bones of the Liberal election promise to transition open net-pen aquaculture out of the ocean; and to breathe life into the government’s commitment to the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We worked together with dozens of conservation and community-based organizations across Canada to craft thoughtful submissions to earlier consultation rounds, outlining exactly how new federal powers might be used to help an industry with no social licence find a way to flourish in the context of a new, sustainable Blue Economy. So far, nothing.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is leading this consultation and has proven itself tone deaf when it comes to the concerns and recommendations of groups with expertise such as ours—and over 2000 private citizens who participated in the process. After three years we cannot point to a single proposal in the Act that will improve the current protections for fish, fish habitat or the marine environment, despite the fact that a purported purpose of the Act is to “enhance environmental protection”.
What has been made clear is that the Aquaculture Act will exclude aquaculture activities from the application of the Fisheries Act. This could have the effect of eroding the hard-fought progress made by Minister Jordan to enhance the habitat protection and fisheries rebuilding provisions of the Fisheries Act.
The Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act include critical environmental safeguards to protect fish, fish habitat, endangered species and the marine environment. Too often government has allowed the open net-pen aquaculture industry to violate these laws by offering exemptions or special licences. DFO’s continued mission to expand the industry and protect it from all of these environmental safeguards makes a mockery of Canada’s commitment to protect biological diversity and pursue sustainability.
Elsewhere in the world, the tide is turning differently. Norway, the corporate origin of most of Canada’s marine finfish aquaculture industry, has come down hard on the net-pen industry. It now incents development of land-based and innovative barrier-technique technologies and strictly limits the allowed biomass in open net-pens. World-wide, at least 22 countries have invested in developing land-based aquaculture, with over seventy projects in development. Billions of dollars of investment have flowed into these projects, seeing their potential to lift the industry out of the quagmire created by increasing costs and risks and decreasing social licence.
In contrast to the progress seen globally, DFO’s initiative seeks to lock in destructive practices that are putting at risk the very survival of salmon on Canada’s east and west coasts; and impacting other species like herring, lobster and shellfish and their habitats, to the detriment of traditional and commercial harvests alike.
As the ecosystems suffer, so too will the coastal communities that rely on fishing, wildlife viewing and other tourism as the mainstays of their economies. What little is gained by industrialization of our coasts is lost many times over from the employment and real socio-economic benefits that our oceans have provided for centuries. The loss of food, culture and whole coastal ecosystems is immeasurable.
We call on the Trudeau government to put a stop to this reckless disregard for the ocean environment and to frame any new law to regulate aquaculture around its commitment to protecting marine biodiversity and the promise to remove open net-pens from coastal waters.
Photo Credit: Nick Hawkins
The above op-ed originally appeared in the Hills Times, Wednesday February 10th, 2021