DFO siting guidelines for marine finfish Aquaculture in British Columbia
The following guidance provides information from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on how applications for new marine finfish aquaculture facilities in British Columbia are assessed. The Department’s primary objective in applying these guidelines is to locate aquaculture facilities in areas that are best suited to minimize the risks to fish health and the aquatic ecosystem, consistent with regulatory requirements and a precautionary approach to management, while promoting an economically prosperous and socially sustainable industry. Applied in concert with the range of other management tools (e.g. conditions of licence, management plans, environmental monitoring), siting guidelines contribute to the strong regulatory and management framework for aquaculture in British Columbia.
In establishing these guidelines, the following key considerations were applied:
- consistency with DFO’s legislative and regulatory mandate
- ensuring that aquaculture development respects constitutionally protected Aboriginal, and treaty rights and that the priorities of Aboriginal users of aquatic resources are taken into consideration
- consistency with current scientific understanding regarding aquaculture and interactions with the environment
- whether management objectives are most effectively met through the use of siting guidelines relative to other measures (e.g. conditions of licence)
Aquaculture Regulatory Regime in British Columbia
As the lead federal agency responsible for regulating, licensing and monitoring aquaculture in British Columbia, DFO has a key role to play with respect to reviewing new applications for marine finfish aquaculture. The Province of British Columbia has legislative responsibilities for issuing tenures under the Provincial Land Act for marine finfish aquaculture facilities. Transport Canada is responsible for issuing authorizations for marine finfish aquaculture facilities relating to navigation under the Navigation Protection Act.
For DFO, the Fishery (General) Regulations (FGR), Pacific Aquaculture Regulations and Aquaculture Activities Regulations (AAR) are the principle Fisheries Act regulations governing the activity of marine finfish aquaculture in British Columbia. In addition to the requirements of the Species at Risk Act and the principles of the Oceans Act, these regulations frame the management and regulation of aquaculture activities on the Pacific coast.
The purpose of these guidelines is:
- to outline the Department’s management objectives as they relate to locating new marine finfish facilities
- to set out the issues (risks) related to siting that are considered during the review of applications for new marine finfish aquaculture facilities in British Columbia
- to provide the aquaculture industry, First Nations, stakeholders and the public with greater information and increased transparency regarding DFO’s review process
3.0 Siting guidelines
The guidelines are organized into the following four themes identifying key management objectives and potential issues (risks) regarding the siting of proposed aquaculture facilities.
- General siting considerations
- Potential fish, fish habitat, and environmental impacts
- Potential impacts to existing fishery activities
- Fish health and wild-farmed interactions
3.1 General siting considerations
Management objective: to ensure that new marine finfish aquaculture facilities have the required permits, tenures and authorizations; and that First Nation rights and title are respected.
Where applicable, First Nations Treaty and/or Non-Treaty agreements will be considered.
Treaty and/or Non-Treaty agreements with local First Nations will be considered during the application review process. Siting of aquaculture facilities should not be inconsistent with these agreements.
Consistent with the legal ‘Duty to Consult’, DFO will engage with First Nations if there is a potential to infringe on a claim or unclaimed Treaty right. Similarly, where non-treaty agreements exist they will be considered during the application review process and engagement will be undertaken as appropriate.
Where required, aquaculture facilities will have a Provincial land tenure and/or Navigable Waters permit.
Given their respective roles and responsibilities, the federal and provincial agencies involved in the licensing and management of aquaculture activities in British Columbia have developed a “harmonized” application review process for new aquaculture licence applications and amendments. Through this process, applications for Federal licences, Provincial land tenures and Navigable Waters permits are submitted at the same time for review.
The proposed aquaculture facility should not be sited within a National Marine Protected Area unless identified as an exception within the regulation.
This guideline mitigates potential risks to marine protected areas that have been designated by a Federal Agency. This includes Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs) and National Wildlife Areas (NWAs). Allowable activities may include specific fishery activities, including aquaculture, which are listed as exceptions to the regulations and managed under the Fisheries Act. Potential risks to relevant MPAs will be evaluated during the application review process.
3.2 Potential fish, fish habitat and environmental impacts
Management objective: to minimize potential impacts to the environment (e.g. seabed) that may result in a negative impact on existing commercial, recreational or aboriginal (CRA) fisheries or important/valued ecosystem components.
The primary mechanisms through which marine finfish aquaculture activities may impact fish, fish habitat and valued benthic ecosystem components are through:
- the release and deposit of waste material and unconsumed feed
- the drop-off of biofouling organisms which sink to the seafloor
- the effects of shading as a result of placement of farm infrastructure and
- the placement of farm infrastructure on the seafloor (e.g. anchor blocks)
The Department requires the proponent of each application to conduct surveys, undertake analyses and submit a set of comprehensive reports detailing the physical and biological characteristics of the ecosystem beneath and around the proposed site location. These include reports on:
- seafloor habitat, species inventory, and other ecological attributes to determine baseline environmental conditions
- physical parameters such as current flow measurements, bathymetry and seabed typology to determine how the proposed facility will perform in that specific environment and
- estimates of the spatial extent and degree of impact to the seafloor resulting from the operation of the proposed facility to determine whether ecological risks require mitigation
The submitted reports are assessed by the Department during the application review process. Further detailed guidance on survey, analyses and reporting requirements are described in the harmonized Pacific Region Marine Finfish Aquaculture Application guidebook.
Aquaculture facilities should be capable of meeting performance measures for benthic conditions, as identified in the Aquaculture Activities Regulations, in order to mitigate impact to the ecosystem below the facility.
This guideline mitigates potential risks that on-going operation of the aquaculture facility will be unsustainable in terms of benthic performance.
Siting assessment tools (e.g. models, seafloor surveys/characterization, current flow measurements etc.) should demonstrate that the location and configuration of a proposed aquaculture facility will maximize the capacity of the operator to meet benthic management performance measures set out in the Aquaculture Activities Regulations, while also considering proposed production.
The predicted footprint of increased deposition should be located in water depth of greater than 30 m to mitigate potential impacts to shallow water habitats.
This guideline mitigates potential impacts to shallow water habitats such as kelp beds, eelgrass beds, near-shore spawning areas, etc. which support CRA fisheries.
Benthic deposition models (such as DEPOMOD) should demonstrate that the area of seafloor that is estimated to be impacted by increased deposition of biochemical oxygen demanding (BOD) matter (i.e. faeces and uneaten feed) is in a water depth of greater than 30 m. Specifically, the estimated increased BOD matter deposition at peak feed input for the aquaculture facility should not exceed 1g Carbon.m 2.day 1 over seafloor areas of less than 30 m depth (Chart Datum).
The application process requires that seafloor surveys are conducted within the estimated area of impact of the proposed facility. These surveys are designed to characterize and quantify the potential impact to sea floor habitats that may occur as a result of operation of the proposed facility and are assessed as part of the application review process. In circumstances where increased organic deposition is estimated over seafloor areas that are less than 30 m depth, the above review is augmented with an enhanced assessment of the potential impact to this shallow water near shore habitat. Details of these survey requirements are set out in the Pacific Region Marine Finfish Aquaculture Application guidebook.
A minimum distance of 10 m should be maintained between the bottom of the facility infrastructure (i.e. netting, predator nets etc.) and the seabed to mitigate potential impacts from direct contact.
This guideline mitigates potential impacts to seabed habitats as a result of scouring and dragging of the nets on the benthic ecosystem and enables water movement beneath the cages to disperse fish waste. Specifically, no part of the aquaculture facility infrastructure should come into contact with the seabed with the exception of anchor lines and blocks.
Placement and operation of the proposed aquaculture facility should not impact Species at Risk Act (SARA) listed species.
This guideline mitigates potential impacts to SARA listed species and their critical habitat as a result of the placement and/or operation of the proposed aquaculture facility. These issues will be evaluated during the application review process, referencing relevant SARA recovery strategies and action plans.
3.3 Potential impacts to existing fishery activities
Management objective: to minimize and/or mitigate potential impacts on existing fisheries. Within this objective, Aboriginal rights to fish for Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) purposes have priority, after conservation, over other uses of the aquatic resource.
The guidelines set out under this theme identify specific considerations used to review the potential impact of new aquaculture facilities on existing commercial, recreational and/or Aboriginal fisheries. The impact of any new facility will be assessed on a case-by-case basis in terms of the value of the fishery, employment benefits and other socio-economic factors. The Department ultimately seeks to strike a balance between providing additional aquaculture opportunities while maintaining viable and sustainable wild fisheries in B.C.
The primary mechanisms through which aquaculture activities have the potential to impact existing fishery activities are through
- physical displacement as a result of the siting of farm infrastructure including anchor lines
- alterations in the suitability of seafloor conditions to support existing fisheries (considered under section 3.2 above) and
- the requirement to establish Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP) "prohibited areas" around the aquaculture facility (as per the CSSP Manual of Operations)
Placement and operation of the proposed facility in relation to First Nations’ ability to access fish for Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) purposes will be evaluated.
Impacts to First Nations’ ability to fish for FSC purposes may arise as a consequence of the removal of access to a specific location/area following the placement of farm infrastructure and/or alterations in the suitability of the seafloor conditions to support fishery activities. Additionally, the requirement to establish a CSSP “prohibited area” around the proposed farm structure may impact bivalve shellfish harvest that forms part of an FSC fishery.
Consistent with its federal consultation requirements, the Department will engage with potentially impacted First Nations to determine the impacts to opportunities to fish for FSC purposes as a result of the operation of the proposed marine finfish aquaculture facility.
Placement and operation of the proposed aquaculture facility in relation to existing commercial, recreational or aboriginal (CRA) fisheries will be evaluated.
Impacts to existing CRA fisheries may arise as a consequence of the removal of access to a specific location/area following the placement or farm infrastructure and/or alterations in the suitability of the seafloor conditions to support fishery activities. Additionally, the requirement to establish a Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program “prohibited area” around the proposed farm structure may impact bivalve shellfish harvest.
Information regarding existing fisheries and potential impacts comes from a variety of sources, for example, DFO’s Resource Management Branch; input from local First Nations through consultative processes; review of survey data (e.g. stream surveys, ROV seafloor surveys) provided to the Department in support of applications; commercial and/or recreational harvesters; and other sources available to the Department.
3.4 Fish health and wild-farmed interactions
Management objective: to minimize and/or mitigate potential risks to the health of wild and farmed stocks resulting from interactions between wild and farmed fish.
The primary mechanism through which marine finfish aquaculture activities may potentially impact the health of wild stocks are through
- the release of pathogens from infected farmed fish and the potential for subsequent infection and disease transmission to wild fish and/or
- the release of sea lice from farmed fish and subsequent attachment to wild fish. Wild fish may impact the health of farmed stocks through similar mechanisms
Additionally, aquaculture facilities may pose risks to the health of farmed stocks at other facilities through similar water-borne transmission processes.
The Department’s management approach (including both siting guidelines and other management measures) is designed to mitigate potential risks to the health of all fish stocks – both farmed and wild. Siting facilities in areas that provide conditions to support good fish health will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks at aquaculture facilities and thereby potential risks to wild and farmed stocks.
Maintaining the health of farmed fish and mitigating potential risks from interactions between farmed and wild fish stocks are integral components of the mandatory Health Management Program (HMP). Among other things, the HMP lays out the protocols to monitor and manage sea lice; and ensure that aquaculture fish are monitored for infection and signs of disease. Additionally, the marine finfish aquaculture conditions of licence require that the facility operators take measures to manage on-site sea lice abundance to prescribed levels to minimize risks to wild stocks.
Scientific knowledge concerning the potential risks of pathogen and sea lice transfer between wild and farmed fish continues to develop and the Department will review its management approach in light of new scientific information and advances in health management practices and cultivation technology.
Siting of aquaculture facilities will take into consideration potential impacts to the health of wild migratory salmon and other fish stocks.
This guideline emphasises the role that siting assessments can play in terms of identifying potential risks to the health of both farmed and wild stocks based on exposure pathways. Potential risks to wild salmonid stocks from pathogen transfer processes will be evaluated during the application review process and should be considered by the proponent during the siting assessment and application development process. The type and resolution of information available to support consideration of this guideline will be variable across different areas of the coastline and will be available from a variety of sources.
The application review process will consider factors such as:
- the location of known salmon migratory routes
- the location of areas where migratory salmon are known to congregate and/or use as a temporary holding or rearing/resting area
- the status of the local Pacific salmon Conservation Units
- the location of anadromous salmonid spawning habitat
In support of this guideline, applications for new marine finfish facilities are required to include a survey of potential anadromous salmonid habitat in all streams within one kilometre of the proposed facility.
Aquaculture facilities should be located at least three kilometres from an existing marine finfish facility or operate under co-ordinated Health Management Plans.
This guideline further reduces potential disease transfer risks between aquaculture facilities. The three kilometre distance is based on historical usage of this buffer zone.
Where the proposed aquaculture facility is located within three kilometres of an existing facility or facilities, the mandatory Health Management Plans for each facility should include detailed plans that will be implemented should a fish health event occur. These should specify response, co-ordination and communication plans between the facilities to mitigate potential risks to wild and farmed stocks.
4.0 Science advice supporting siting guidelines development
These guidelines were developed to be consistent with current science knowledge and advice regarding aquaculture and potential interactions with the environment. Some of the guidelines do not have a science-based linkage (i.e. they are policy based or legal requirements), whereas others are directly connected to science advice that has been provided through the Department’s Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS). The CSAS review on Pathways of Effects for Finfish and Shellfish Aquaculture (CSAS Science Advisory Report 2009/071) formed the scientific basis for these guidelines. Emerging science on risks related to wild-farmed and environmental interactions will be incorporated in the DFO application assessment process as it becomes available.
With regard to the fish health and wild farmed interactions theme, it is noted that the mandatory Health Management Plan (HMP) and the facility Standard Operating Procedures outline best practices and represent the primary management measures used to mitigate potential risks to all fish stocks and has been developed over many years by Fish Health professionals. These siting guidelines further reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks at aquaculture facilities and thereby potential risks to wild and farmed stocks.
5.0 Review of these guidelines
As noted in the introduction, the Department is committed to review and revise the Siting Guidelines to incorporate new science knowledge and advice that becomes available. At a maximum, these guidelines will be reviewed on a 5-year basis.
6.0 For more information
For more information, please consult DFO’s website.
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