Aquaculture system needs to be streamlined to cut red tape, says N.S. review

Cooke Aquaculture's 20-cage salmon farm at Rattling Beach near Digby, N.S. (CBC - image credit)
Cooke Aquaculture's 20-cage salmon farm at Rattling Beach near Digby, N.S. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia has released the results of a review designed to improve the rules around aquaculture — the first evaluation since the regime was overhauled in 2015.

The report issued Friday by an aquaculture advisory committee validates criticism of the current system from both opponents and industry.

"Our aim is to support low-impact, sustainable growth in Nova Scotia's aquaculture industry," Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Steve Craig said in a statement.

"These recommendations are the result of extensive consultation and will guide us in making improvements. I thank the committee and everyone who participated for sharing their insight to help us with this important work."

The committee agreed with opponents saying that more transparency, information and public participation is needed in decision making.

Ten of the 15 key recommendations are aimed at what it calls "rightsizing the system," including cutting red tape and streamlining oversight based on risk, farm size and production changes.

It suggests making the application process less onerous for small and medium shellfish and marine plant operators.

Harmonization of federal and provincial government seabed monitoring should be explored as should standardizing water testing requirements.

The committee report also says regulations should be amended to allow fish farm boundary changes that do not increase production to go through administrative decision making rather than a full-blown aquaculture review board hearing.

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

That's what happened to Cooke Aquaculture when it applied to amend a salmon boundary at Rattling Beach near Digby, N.S., without adding fish.

It resulted in three days of public hearings that concluded the salmon farm was well managed and Cooke had been asking to fix the boundary since 2008 only to be repeatedly put off by the province.

The advisory committee is chaired by Chief Terry Paul of Membertou — a supporter of fish farming — and April Howe, deputy minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Incremental changes

Environmental and industry representatives are also on the committee.

The report concludes the recommendations "do not prescribe a roadmap forward, they do suggest next steps for incremental change along the journey of continuous improvement to strengthen the regulations."

"We would like to acknowledge that regulatory and policy change takes time, as the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture must conduct further analysis to consider the implications of these possible improvements," the report said.