Nova Scotia: more transparency needed for aquaculture, says report

A new report commissioned by Nova Scotia's Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture calls for more information to be made available on aquaculture regulation for both citizens and the industry.
Salmon aquaculture cages in St. Marys Bay in Digby, Nova Scotia. Photo: Adobe Stock
Salmon aquaculture cages in St. Marys Bay in Digby, Nova Scotia. Photo: Adobe Stock

A new report comissioned by Nova Scotia's Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA) calls for a rethink to aquaculture regulation in the province, as well as greater transparency and public engagement regarding the sector.

The report, produced by consulting firm Davis Pier in collaboration with the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Regulatory Advisory Committee, involved several months of consultation with citizens and industry groups across Nova Scotia, and gathered 988 online survey responses.

Stakeholders also participated in meetings online or in person to discuss their views and experiences. The consultation included engagement with First Nations Mi'kmaq communities and municipalities.

The key theme to emerge from the consultations was transparency: whether in decision-making, information sharing or monitoring industry practices.

The consultation found that a lack of transparency and information has given rise to "different interpretations" of regulations by the aquaculture industry in Nova Scotia. This has also eroded citizens' trust and confidence in the regulatory framework, process, and government oversight, according to the report.

Aquaculture is a major industry for Nova Scotia, with 235 marine and land-based aquaculture sites in the province. Taken together, the aquaculture industry employs almost 900 people and contributes approximately $80 million per year to the Nova Scotia economy.

Nova Scotia's current aquaculture regulations, developed following an independent review, have been in place since 2015.

Current regulations are "a good start", but need adjustment based on size

Although the consultation established that current regulations are seen as "a good start", it found that a "one size fits all" approach to regulation in Nova Scotia "has created disparities within the sector".

Instead, the report recommends Nova Scotia authorities assess the regulatory reporting procedures and requirements to find efficiencies, based on the scale and type of the aquaculture operation in question.

"Operators desire more information about the regulations regarding oversight, process, and approvals. Community and environmental organizations want more clarity on regulations and decision-making processes," the report says.

Aquaculture operators said they need more information on regulations regarding oversight, application processes and approvals. They suggested a detailed checklist of the application process steps would be useful to make the process simpler and more transparent.

Extend validity of aquaculture leases, and "harmonize" regulations

Operators also suggested extending the validity of aquaculture leases to a one year from the date they are issued, instead of the current period of 6 months. They also suggested leases could be extended as necessary, to enable businesses to explore potential locations and conduct research.

The report contains a total of 16 recommendations, including bringing licence fees in Nova Scotia in line with global standards. There is also a need to "harmonize" federal and provincial programs monitoring fish waste, the authors suggest.

The report also recommends that the Nova Scotia legislature should provide greater support in promoting seafood produced from local aquaculture.

More information and "meaningful engagement" with public

Both public and industry representatives highlighted information "gaps" on fish health and surveillance. Concerns were also raised about a deficit of information on escapes and diseases at aquaculture facilities. The report also identified a lack of farm management plans and public engagement in the licencing process for new ventures.

Suggestions for improvement include establishing an online public registry with information specific to each aquaculture site, and developing plain-language public information that is easy to access and navigate through the DFA website.

Aquaculture in Nova Scotia needs government promotion and investment

The report concludes that the long-term prosperity and sustainability of aquaculture in Nova Scotia also relies on government playing an active role in promoting the sector, as well as greater investment in research, innovation, and adoption of leading practices for the sector.

The Nova Scotia report comes as aquaculture is under intense scrutiny elsewhere in Canada, with the recent announcement that British Columbia is closing all fish farms in the Discovery Islands.

However, in Nova Scotia, public opinion of aquaculture appears to be more positive. A 2021 survey suggesting citizens of the province were supportive of aquaculture in terms of sustainability, employment and economic impact.

The Nova Scotia Aquaculture Regulatory Advisory Committee hopes that the results of this latest consultation will help to inform the province's aquaculture policy and practice going forward.

Commenting on the consultation process in August 2022, Chief Terrance Paul, chief of the Membertou First Nation and co-chair of the advisory committee said, "A commitment to continuous improvement means taking the time to reflect on our priorities, learn from lived experience, listen to differing viewpoints, and understand what's most important to the people in our communities."

"This is the right time to step back and do that with our aquaculture regulations. If there are opportunities to improve on the framework in place today, this review will help us identify them", he said.

About Nova Scotia's Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture

The Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA) has a legislated mandate to manage, promote, support and develop the fishing, aquaculture and seafood processing industries that contribute to the economic, environmental and social prosperity of Nova Scotia's coastal and rural communities. The DFA promotes Nova Scotia as Canada's premier fish and seafood province. Its vision includes an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable aquaculture industry creating year-round jobs and increased wealth throughout rural coastal Nova Scotia.

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