The Trudeau government's plans for ocean protection were front and centre Wednesday as the new federal fisheries minister met for the first time with her counterparts from Canada's five eastern provinces.
Ottawa's plans include a dramatic increase in the amount of marine protected areas, phasing out open-net pen fish farms on the West Coast and a new aquaculture act.
The commitment to scrap open-net pen fish farms in British Columbia — unveiled during the fall federal election — will leave Canada with different rules for fin fish aquaculture on both coasts.
During their meeting with Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan, Atlantic ministers appeared to have little appetite for banning open-net pens on salmon farms.
"As long as the federal government allows us to keep doing what we're doing, we'll be very, very happy," said Nova Scotia Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Colwell.
New Brunswick's Minister of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Ross Wetmore said he hears few complaints about aquaculture in his province.
"I want to make sure that the federal minister knows what we're doing right," he said.
Act will 'lend stability' to industry
Jordan has been charged with implementing the phase out in British Columbia by 2025.
She noted regulations for aquaculture are governed by provincial governments on the East Coast and by the federal government on the West Coast.
"We are right now working toward an aquaculture act that we hope will lend stability to the industry as well as address the concerns that people have about aquaculture," said Jordan.
The meeting in Halifax was not announced by the federal government. It was disclosed in a press release by Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne.
Byrne said he expects greater co-operation on aquaculture regulation within the region.
More Marine Protected Areas on the way
The other key initiative on the table was Ottawa's plan to increase marine protected areas from around 14 per cent to 25 per cent by 2025, and working toward 30 per cent by 2030.
Colwell said he is "very concerned" about the potential of losing fishing grounds.
"We fully support [marine protected areas], but it has to be for the right reason. It's got to be something that's going to be a unique location, unique habitat," he said.
Public outcry forced Jordan's predecessor, Jonathan Wilkinson, to suspend DFO's attempt to designate the first large coastal marine protected area in Canada along Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore.
The federal government repeatedly stated the area would have no impact on the local lobster fishery.
Colwell represents the area in the provincial legislature and was a vocal opponent.
Consultations will be held
As an MP representing fishing communities in another part of Nova Scotia — South Shore—St. Margaret's — Jordan is well aware of the sensitivities.
She added that marine protected areas aren't necessary a "no-take" zone — it depends on what is protected.
"There will be no marine protected areas unless there's consultations with communities making sure that they understand the process," she said.
"We want to make sure that we grow our economy, we maintain our fishery but we also have to make sure that we maintain it into the future and it's sustainable."
Negotiations with Indigenous bands ongoing
Jordan also said her department continues to pursue agreements with individual Indigenous bands across the region that will define and implement the right of First Nations to earn a moderate living from the fishery.
In the past seven months, DFO has signed agreements with two bands in New Brunswick and one in Quebec.
"It is not an easy process. It is a long process for sure, but we're committed to making sure that we get those agreements in place," she said.
The right to earn a "moderate livelihood" was upheld in a 1999 landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling, but was never defined.
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