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‘Sea change’ in Canadian aquaculture

Canada’s new federal minister responsible for regulating the aquaculture industry on Thursday indicated radical change is coming in the way Canada manages Atlantic salmon farming.

In 2010, management of aquaculture became the responsibility of the federal government as per a Supreme Court decision (Morton v. British Columbia) in 2009. The significance of that decision was that it declared that fish (and shellfish) farming was in fact a “fishery” and gave exclusive authority to the Government of Canada for the management of that "fishery." Prior to 2010 provinces were responsible for managing most to all of aspects of the industry, including licensing and regulating the industry around production, animal health, compliance and enforcement.

At the launch of the International Year of the Salmon in Vancouver, BC on Thursday, Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said that is about to change. He said the government is looking at area-based management of the industry, which will include “tenuring decisions” on farm sites in the province of British Columbia.

“This is a new departure with respect to how we are actually addressing aquaculture going forward. It is also an area where expect to work collaboratively with our partners in the province and with First Nations communities because it is obviously a critical issue for many of them,” Wilkinson said.

BC Premier John Horgan said the area-based tenuring that Minister Wilkinson is advocating is a “sea change in how we look at issuing tenures in our oceans.”

“From the provincial perspective we have a modest responsibility for anchoring tenures. About 10 percent of the activity is the responsibility of the province, (but) the remainder of what happens in the water column, the fish, the animals, what they eat, what medicines they require, are a federal responsibility.

“Minister Wilkinson and I are working cooperatively on two orders of government to ensure that when we’re talking to communities, when we’re working face to face, nation to nation with indigenous peoples as well as with industry, that we’re very candid with what we’d like to see with the industry, we’re harmonizing the tenures now between federal and provincial governments. These are very positive steps forward but we’ve got a lot more work to do,” he said.

Wilkinson has not indicated how the new management approach will look like as discussions are still in progress.

Salmon faming is a contentious issue in some First Nation communities in BC. Beginning June 2022, applications for new or renewal of fish farm licences in the province will have to meet two new criteria before the province approves them: consent from local First Nations that own the territories, and a stipulation from the federal Fisheries Department that the farm won’t endanger BC wild salmon.

Bob Chamberlain, the elected chief councillor of Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation in the Broughton Archipelago said his council “is now getting closer to finalizing a set of recommendations” for a transition plan for the industry in the Broughton archipelago.

He said they have been exploring “a transition plan for the industry that is not going to further impact the wild salmon, but at the same time is respectful of the overall operations.”

“We feel confident that with the support of the provincial government and the federal government that we’ll be able to arrive at a set of recommendations for an agreed-upon transition plan for the industry,” he said.