Nova Scotia freezes fish farming applications for up to 3 years

The Nova Scotia government halts new applications while it adopts a "traffic light" system for fish farming licenses, similar to that of Norway.
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. Photo: Adobe Stock.
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. Photo: Adobe Stock.

Nova Scotia's Ministry for Fisheries and Aquaculture has confirmed that no new fish farming applications will be considered until the Nova Scotia legislature has updated its regulations, pending the outcome of a three-year project to survey the coastline's suitability for aquaculture.

The Nova Scotia government intends to introduce a "traffic light" system similar to that of Norway, classifying coastal sites according to their suitability for aquaculture. This will be used as the basis for decision-making on future permits for open-net fish farming in the province.

Ministry confirms fish farming applications will be frozen pending outcome of the "traffic light" project

Responding to a request from WeAreAquaculture, a Nova Scotia government spokesperson confirmed that the moratorium on new applications only applies to finfish farming ventures. Shellfish and seaweed aquaculture will be left untouched.

"The coastal classification system will map out areas around Nova Scotia that are potentially suitable for finfish aquaculture," the Ministry told WeAreAquaculture.

"Once it's done, everyone will have a better understanding of where finfish aquaculture could potentially happen in Nova Scotia – and where it likely will not happen. That means more transparency for the public, better applications from industry and a faster review process."

"We are prioritizing the coastal classification system. We'll look at new finfish applications once we are well into the development of this tool. Meanwhile shellfish and seaplant applications continue to be reviewed."

Possible 3 year wait while the survey is underway

The coastal classification project was an election pledge by the Progressive Conservative party elected in 2021. Nova Scotia's Centre for Marine Applied Research launched the project this year, with a budget of CAN$ 3.65 million. The research will be completed within three years.

According to a report by CBC News, no new leases on open-net pen sites have been granted since 2021. Nova Scotia's Minister for Fisheries and Aquaculture Steve Craig said he will await the outcome of the research before any new open-net pen leases are granted.

Put simply, this means that any expansion of conventional finfish farming sites in Nova Scotia will be delayed until 2025-2026.

What is the "traffic light" system for fish farming permits?

Norway brought its "traffic light" system into operation in 2017 to regulate production capacity of Atlantic salmon. The system divides the Norwegian coast into 13 zones where production is regulated according to a set of environmental indicators. The ratings are mainly based on sea lice infestation levels, and are updated on an annual basis.

In "red" zones, salmon production must be reduced, meaning some permits will not be renewed. "Yellow" zones indicate production should remain unchanged, which means no new permits can be issued. In "green" zones, there is space for more production, meaning new farming licences are available.

It is as yet unclear whether Nova Scotia's traffic light ratings will use the same parameters as the Norwegian model.

"Overdue" update to Nova Scotia's aquaculture regulations

The news follows shortly after a new report commissioned by the Nova Scotia government recommended greater transparency on aquaculture regulations. The report was based on consultation with citizens and industry groups across Nova Scotia, as well as almost 1,000 online survey responses.

Nova Scotia's government last updated its aquaculture regulations in 2015. Industry stakeholders and citizen groups alike have called for improvements to the system.

However, it is unclear as yet how Nova Scotia's aquaculture industry will react to this latest news.

Elsewhere in Canada the battle over regulations continues. Earlier this week, salmon farming companies Mowi Canada West, Grieg Seafood BC, and Cermaq Canada launched legal action over the Government's decision to revoke farming licenses in the Discovery Islands in British Columbia. The move came in parallel to suits filed by Wei Wai Kum and Wei Wai Kai First Nations, who claim that the ban on fish farming in the region infringes their indigenous rights.

About Nova Scotia's Centre for Marine Applied Research (CMAR)

CMAR leads and supports science research projects in collaboration with industry, government, communities, and other marine user groups, to support the sustainable development of coastal resources in Nova Scotia. CMAR promotes innovation and science-based decision making by collecting and analyzing biophysical and socio-economic data. The Centre operates as an independent division under Perennia Food & Agriculture Corporation, the provincial agriculture development agency.

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