Aquaculture in Canada: a legislative void

According to the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, aquaculture accounts to 14% of the total fisheries production, holds 33% the total market value, and directly employs over 16,000 people in Canada (1). This growing industry, primarily along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, is a source of economic stimulus and rural employment, especially for aboriginal communities (1, 2).

There are definite risks with aquaculture, which are enhanced when operated using open-pen feedlots. In these fish farms, there is greater interaction between the farm itself and the surrounding marine ecosystem. The vast amounts of waste (excess feed and feces) is often incapable of being absorbed by the environment, parasites and diseases may spread into wild fish populations, and escaped product can outcompete wild species (3, 4).

In ensuring sustainable and low-risk growth of the industry, it would be expected that adequate environmental legislation be developed. However, with the passing of the Bill C-38 by the Conservative-led federal government in 2012, aquaculture developments have been stricken from any responsibility under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (3). Prior to this Bill, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act were two federal bodies that oversaw aquaculture and could trigger an environmental impact assessment (EIA)(7). With the federal government disowning responsibility of aquaculture (even though fisheries maintain within federal jurisdiction) the provinces are ill prepared to fill the legislative gap.

Communities’ concern is growing on both of Canada’s coasts, with calls for moratoriums and boycotts on the aquaculture industry (3). EIA previously offered the outlet for public opinion during aquaculture development, and since none of the provinces have yet to implement any provincial requirements for an EIA (3), this legislative void has been left unfilled.

“You can’t expect provincial laws to be adequate to the task right now in any province, because they were developed based on an assumption that the federal government was willing to play a role that it is no longer willing to play.”

-Meinhard Doelle, Director of the Marine & Environmental Law Institute, Dalhousie University, Halifax (3)

A case study of a current struggle in this newly unregulated industry is the work of the Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore (APES), based in Nova Scotia. This organization formed in a response to what was a “democratic deficit” (5) in the licensing of aquaculture developments in the area. After the passing of Bill C-38, the EIAs for two major aquaculture proposals on the Eastern Shore were cancelled. Following heavy lobbying and protests by this organization and its supporters, on March 13th 2013 the provincial government responded by rejecting one of the proposals for development (the second license is still under consideration)(6).

Karin Cope - APES

Protest against aquaculture development in Nova Scotia, Karin Cope – APES

With such a gap in legislation, communities have no choice but to be public and vocal regarding aquaculture. This is not a desired scenario for the government nor the industry itself. It is in all stakeholders’ best interest to develop a means to accommodate this legislative void in order to minimize aquaculture’s social and environmental risks.


(1) Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance 2012, Economic Benefits.

(2) Aboriginal Aquaculture Association 2012

(3) Halifax Media Co-op 2013, No More Environmental Impact Assessments for Salmon Farms in Nova Scotia

(4) Paul Read & Teresa Fernande 2003, Management of environmental impacts of marine aquaculture in Europe, Aquaculture. Vol 226 pp 139-163

(5) The Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore 2013, Nova Scotia: Eastern Shore Residents Celebrate Province’s Refusal to Grant New Open Pen Salmon Farm License in Shoal Bay, Press Release.

(6) Government of Nova Scotia 2013, Fish Farm Application Not Approved for Shoal Bay, Press Release.

(7) Aquaculture Coalition 2012, Submissions of the Aquaculture Coalition Regarding Bill C-38


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