Aquaculture North America

Viewpoint: The True North strong and free

June 17, 2024
By Ben Normand

CAIA’s Priorities for Achieving Canada’s Aquaculture Potential

(Photo: CAIA)

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) is the national association that speaks for Canada’s seafood farmers, representing their interests in Ottawa and internationally to regulators, policymakers and political leaders. CAIA members generate nearly C$5 billion in economic activity, over C$1.8 billion in gross domestic product, and employ over 16,000 Canadians (2022). 

Canada has the longest coastline in the world, and we currently use around one percent of the bio-physically suitable water space for aquaculture. This country has tremendous potential to become an even more prominent global leader in the development of the industry and the positive domestic and international outcomes it achieves.

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, a private-public innovation hub, has announced its “Ambition 2035” goals to triple the economic value of Canada’s seafood sector, with aquaculture being a major part of this expansion. Achieving this goal will require a robust, science-based regulatory framework, a policy environment that is supportive of sustainable growth and deliberate investment in innovation, while providing farmers with the tools that they need to weather a changing climate. CAIA is pursuing the following priority issues in its advocacy program with the federal government, in collaboration with provincial and regional association partners and all members:  

Have the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food take over responsibility for the growth and promotion of the aquaculture sector

Canada supports and markets growth in our land-based food production. We must do the same for our seafood. 

The sustainable aquaculture sector in Canada is currently governed by a patchwork of federal, provincial and local regulations and policies. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is the sector’s federal regulatory lead, but the department is poorly “tooled” for sector development and there are negative perceptions of a conflict of interest stemming from DFO being that lead. The federal government needs to adopt, fund, and implement a proactive vision for Canada to be the best, most sustainable farmed seafood producer in the world and set a target with provincial partners for sustainable growth, as we’ve seen in jurisdictions such as Norway and New Zealand. 

The promotion and support for our sustainable seafood farming sector should be shifted to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to drive innovation and sustainable growth, while DFO should focus on and strengthen its key responsibilities of peer-reviewed science evaluation and regulation.

Achieve a workable, realistic and responsible pathway for the B.C. salmon farming transition plan

Salmon farming output in British Columbia has been reduced by 40 percent in recent years. Before these shutdowns, B.C. salmon farmers employed more than 8,000 British Columbians and generated C$2.6 billion in economic output.  At one point, the government was signalling that they would like to see an unrealistic transition of all B.C. salmon farming into land-based facilities. This despite the fact that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ own peer-reviewed science says there are minimal or negligible effects from salmon farms to wild salmon. This caused significant uncertainty in the sector and has ironically held back major investments in innovation and new technologies to support ever-more sustainable production.

There is now a more realistic approach to “transition” in B.C. The new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Hon. Diane LeBouthillier, has said that no more shutdowns will be coming in the near future. Much transition in the sector has already happened, most notably that 100 percent of remaining farm production is under agreement with local First Nations.

DFO must continue to consult with industry and First Nations in the development of a transition plan that provides long-term stability through science-based environmental performance targets, so that these companies can continue to invest in, and deploy, new technologies for innovative growth and enhanced environmental performance. 

DFO is expected to release their draft transition plan in the first half of this year. 

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Modernize the regulatory framework for shellfish aquaculture

Canadian sustainable farm-raised shellfish is a small sector with huge potential. There are over 2,600 marine shellfish farms in Canada, with production averaging over C$100 million per year. Projections based on the UN FAO/OECD show that by 2030, Canadian shellfish production could reach almost 58,000 tonnes – a 36 percent increase over 2019 levels. If proper federal supports are in place, this sector has the potential to be positioned as an important contributor to federal priorities in Indigenous reconciliation, climate change mitigation, innovation and blue economy development.

New site access is critical in the pursuit of this potential, and one of the major constraints to new site access is the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP), co-managed by CFIA, DFO and ECCC. A stagnant funding envelope (~C$15 million without inflationary increases) for twenty years is a leading barrier to economic development. 

CAIA has asked for additional funding in Budget 2024 for the CSSP program to support greater capacity to classify new harvest areas along Canada’s vast coastlines, to efficiently reopen sites and to modernize the program.

Provide access to federal farm programs

The federal government supports land-based agriculture by funding innovation through federal-provincial agreements and promotes investment in agriculture through Business Risk Management (BRM) programs, such as AgriInsurance.  

Just like land-based agriculture, Canada’s aquaculture sector has clearly signalled their willingness to continuously innovate to further reduce their impact and increase the efficiency and sustainability of their operations. Many of these new technologies, such as semi-closed salmon farm barrier technologies are high-cost and their development requires investor certainty and government incentives. Giving aquaculture access to existing federal farm programs would be a simple, straightforward way to provide both the certainty and incentives needed to stimulate investment in these technologies.

A BRM framework is needed to promote stability and drive investment in the shellfish sector. Like land farmers, Canadian sustainable shellfish growers face significant operational risks – primarily related to environmental and climate events – that can be devasting for this sector composed almost entirely of small- and medium-sized businesses. CAIA will be working with various stakeholders towards the goal of establishing a BRM pilot project for shellfish growers to prove the concept and stimulate political interest in granting access for shellfish growers to federal-provincial BRM programs.

Support seafood marketing

Despite the incredible opportunities and benefits connected to the consumption of Canadian seafood products, Canadians don’t eat enough fish and seafood. Of the seafood Canadians do eat, over 70 percent of it is imported. Unfortunately, the seafood sector is too diverse to self-fund marketing campaigns to the domestic market. 

A joint campaign by FCC and CAIA, named “Choose Canadian Seafood,” has proven the art of the possible. Co-funded by the provinces and the federal government under the Canadian Fish and Seafood Opportunities Fund, the program’s aim is to encourage and educate Canadians to eat more seafood. Longer-term funding would build on the two-year allocations received thus far.

To support this campaign into the future, CAIA is advocating that the federal government replace the Canadian Fish and Seafood Opportunities Fund with long-term funding for marketing Canadian seafood to Canadians. 

By acting as a united voice across all sectors of the Canadian aquaculture industry, as well as working in alignment with provincial aquaculture associations, CAIA sees a clear path forward to achieving the potential of Canada’s aquaculture industry, for the benefit of all stakeholders.  


Ben Normand is the Policy and Regulatory Affairs Coordinator at Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (ben.normand@aquaculture.ca).


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