Bill C-38 and the Free Reign of Mariculture in Canada

In a world where population growth is increasing exponentially, the question of where we get our food becomes one that is quite important. Mariculture, the marine version of farming, seems like an excellent solution to our problem, one that provides an easily accessible and constant source of protein. Mariculture has seen increasing popularity worldwide, and is mimicking trends in population growth (figure 1, below).

Figure 1: Impacts of marine aquaculture. Source:  Wikipedia 2013 [3].

Figure 1: Growth of world population and aquaculture production. Units of population are in billions and production of aquaculture is in millions of tonnes. Source: Martinez-Porchas and Martinez-Cordova 2012 [1].

However, there are numerous environmental and socioeconomic impacts associated with farming aquatic organisms. These impacts include eutrophication, loss of genetic diversity, impacts on natural stocks, introduction of invasive species, spread of disease, and a net loss of protein by using wild fish to feed farmed fish, to name a few [2] (figure 2, below). Although mariculture businesses often rely on the power of currents to disperse their pollutants, improper design can lead to compounding environmental degradation. There is also the problem of its effects on local peoples and their livelihoods. As a result, mariculture is often called unsustainable [1]. So the question then becomes, do the benefits of mariculture outweigh the impacts, and how do we minimize those impacts?

Figure 2: Impacts of marine aquaculture. Source:  Wikipedia 2013 [3].

Figure 2: Impacts of marine aquaculture. Source: Wikipedia 2013 [3].

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is one such tool that is used to determine whether an aquaculture project is likely to have negative impacts. EIA is practiced widely in Canada, and was commonplace for aquaculture projects that needed federal approval [4]. However, changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Fisheries Act from the recent Bill C-38 mean the federal government will no longer conduct EIAs on aquaculture projects [5]. This means that the provincial and territorial governments will have to be the ones to conduct these reviews, and these types of projects often don’t fall under their legislation. What this means is that a lot of these projects are going to fall through the cracks, and environmental impacts will go unchecked. In addition, EIA provided a venue for local people to voice their concerns, but without it, fishermen and indigenous communities will have to seek other ways of getting their voices heard.

Despite this extra pressure on the provinces, the Nova Scotia government has recently turned down an application for a salmon farm in Shoal Bay [6]. This was not, however, the result of EIA, but of an opinion that there would be a moderate risk on wild salmon. This isn’t exactly desirable either, because the opinion of one researcher does not measure up to the scrutiny of the masses. EIAs on mariculture would provide an impartial assessment that would not fall victim to external pressures from industry, government, or communities.

So what is it exactly that needs to be done to make sure mariculture projects don’t go overlooked? There is already a pre-existing body of literature on how to develop sustainable mariculture projects, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) [7] has an extensive document describing exactly how EIA should proceed in mariculture. So in combination, properly designed, assessed, and monitored projects will have their impacts minimized while the benefits are maximized. These steps need to become part of legislation at the provincial and/or federal level. Once this step has been completed, a framework will be in place to ensure that mariculture becomes a solution, and not another environmental problem.


[1] Martinez-Porchas, M., and L. Martinez-Cordova. (2012). “World aquaculture: environmental impacts and troubleshooting alternatives.” The Scientific World Journal 9: 9p.

[2] Emerson, C. (1999). “Aquaculture impacts on the environment.” Proquest. Retrieved from <; on March 18th, 2013.

[3] Wikipedia. “Mariculture.” Retrieved from <; on March 18th, 2013.

[4] Ecojustice. “Fisheries Act Legal Backgrounder.” Retrieved from <; on March 18th, 2013.

[5] Butler, E. (2013).  “No more environmental impact assessment for salmon farms in Nova Scotia.” Halifax Media Co-op. Retrieved from <; on March 18th, 2013.

[6] The Canadian Press. (2013). “Fish farm rejected by Nova Scotia government, risk to wild cited.” The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from <; on March 18th, 2013.

[7] FAO. (2009). “Environmental impact assessment and monitoring in aquaculture: requirements, practices, effectiveness and improvements.” 675p.


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