Aquaculture licensing in British Columbia

Overview

Aquaculture licensing in BC

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is responsible for issuing BC aquaculture licences for marine finfish, shellfish and freshwater (or land-based) operations. The province of BC is responsible for licensing the commercial harvest of marine plants.

In addition, DFO issues aquaculture licences for all salmon hatcheries in BC. Salmon enhancement facilities include those that are federally operated as well as non-commercial production facilities operated by First Nations and community groups.

BC aquaculture facilities must operate in compliance with key environmental and health legislation such as the Health of Animals Act, Food and Drugs Act, and Species at Risk Act.

BC aquaculture licences define the responsibilities of operators and assure processors and consumers that they are buying seafood from a licensed facility.

Licences are issued for the operation of a specific aquaculture site and licence holders must apply for a renewal at the frequency specified in the conditions of licence. Companies and organizations with multiple sites must obtain a separate licence for each site.

Additional licences are required for specific activities that may be required to conduct aquaculture operations, such as imports and transfers of fish. The process to acquire an aquaculture licence and tenure (if required) can take one year or more.

Multi-year licensing

Most freshwater/land-based, marine finfish and shellfish aquaculture licences are issued for multiple years:

  • up to 9 years for freshwater/land-based
  • up to 6 years for marine finfish
  • up to 9 years for shellfish

The Department has the authority to issue licences for a shorter period. For example, marine finfish sites in the Discovery Islands area are licensed on a one-year term.

Aquaculture owners and operators must meet their licence conditions throughout the period for which their multi-year licence is issued. DFO maintains the ability to change licence conditions for conservation and protection reasons at any point throughout the duration of the licence.

Conditions of Licence

Licence conditions set out the specific operational and reporting requirements to which licence holders must adhere in order to operate legally and be in compliance with the Fisheries Act and regulations. They contain provisions to ensure that aquaculture sites are operated in an environmentally sustainable manner that minimizes the risk to wild fish stocks and the marine resource.

Together with the regulations, licence conditions are used to regulate and govern the aquaculture industry in BC. Failure to comply can result in investigation and enforcement actions under the Fisheries Act.

Specific conditions of licence have been developed for marine finfish sites, shellfish sites, freshwater commercial hatcheries, and other freshwater/land-based facilities to ensure each type of operation is appropriately regulated. Site-specific conditions of licence may also apply based on the geographic location, the species being cultivated and the facility type.

An operation may cultivate a number of different species at one site at various times and may be licensed for species not currently being grown.

The conditions of licence for non-commercial production facilities (e.g., salmon enhancements, universities, classroom incubators) differ from commercial aquaculture hatchery licences but they have the same categories of licence conditions with respect to fish health management and reporting. The conditions of licence have been tailored to address the particular management needs and nature of enhancement facilities.

Applying for an aquaculture licence

While licences for aquaculture operations in BC are issued by DFO, the provincial government and other federal departments also play a role in the licensing process. DFO, Transport Canada and the province of BC share a single harmonized aquaculture application. The required forms for new sites, or amendments to existing sites for freshwater, shellfish or marine finfish aquaculture operations, are available through FrontCounterBC or by calling toll free 1-877-855-3222.

Siting guidelines

DFO's Siting Guidelines for Marine Finfish Aquaculture in British Columbia set out the issues related to siting that are considered during the review of applications for new facilities. The Department’s goal is to locate aquaculture facilities in areas that are environmentally suitable to the support of farmed and wild fish health, while promoting an economically prosperous and socially sustainable industry. These guidelines also provide First Nations, industry, stakeholders and the public with more information and increased transparency regarding DFO’s review process of such applications.

Tenures

The province of BC has authority over land and foreshore use. Aquaculture operations that required a provincial lease or tenure before 2010, when the province was responsible for regulating aquaculture in BC, continue to need one to comply with provincial law. Aquaculture operations may also require a provincial business licence to conduct aquaculture activities. More information is available via FrontCounterBC.

User fees

Aquaculture licence fees comprise two components:

  1. A flat fee applied to partially recover administrative processing and licence issuance costs under the British Columbia Aquaculture Regulatory Program
  2. An access-to-resource fee for finfish and shellfish licences for exclusive use of, and access to, the respective water column and surface area

Fee structure as of January 1, 2017:

Type of aquaculture licence Administrative flat fee Access to resource fee
Marine finfish $104 $2.60 per tonne of the maximum licensed biomass
Shellfish $104 $5.20 per hectare of the licensed tenure or area of cultivation
Freshwater/land-based $104 N/A

Since most freshwater operations do not access a federally-regulated resource (the freshwater column is considered a provincial resource), these operations are only charged the flat fee portion.

Frequently asked questions - aquaculture licence fees

Frequently asked questions - aquaculture licensing in BC

DFO contact

For general information about aquaculture licences, including the licensing of enhancement facilities, please contact: aquaculture.licensing@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

For general information about freshwater/land-based aquaculture licences, please contact: Freshwater.Aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

For general information about marine finfish aquaculture licences, please contact: Marine.Finfish.Aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

For general information about shellfish aquaculture licences, please contact: Shellfish.Aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Reference notes:

  • Landfile number: The provincial government issues tenures under the Land Act for aquaculture operations in BC. A landfile number is assigned to each tenure issued. Facilities operating on private property are not required to apply for tenure.
  • Site common name: Each aquaculture facility is assigned a site common name. These are usually based on a description of the area where the facility operates.
Applications and decisions

Applications and decisions

Applications under review

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) posts summary documents associated with licence applications under review for new or amended aquaculture facilities. These documents provide information on the applicant, the location, size and type of facility, and the species to be cultivated. Once a decision is made on the application, the outcome is posted and will remain online for an additional 30 days.

DFO considers environmental sustainability, potential impacts to wild fisheries, fish health, site suitability and many other factors as part of the review process.
Read more about DFO's application review process

Transport Canada (TC) and the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNR) each conduct their own application assessments; TC ensures that aquaculture sites do not impede safe navigation and anchorage under the Navigation Protection Act and FLNRO considers land use and general suitability of the site location for aquaculture purposes. Please visit FLNR’s Applications and Reasons for Decisions website for more information.

Applications under review

Marine finfish

For more information on a specific application, please email: Marine.Finfish.Aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Date received Application summary Applicant General location Decision status
         

Shellfish

For more information on a specific application, please email: Shellfish.Aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Date received Application summary Applicant General location Decision status
         

Freshwater/land-based

For more information on a specific application, please email: Freshwater.Aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Date received Application summary Applicant General location Decision status
2017-05-04 New Application Summary, Facility 8313 Seafood4Life Products Inc. Nannoose Bay, BC Under review
2017-05-05 Amendment Summary, Facility AQFW585 Northern Divine Aquafarms Ltd. Gray Creek Hatchery Under review
Enhancement / stocking

Enhancement and stocking licensing in BC

Under the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations, all salmon hatcheries in BC require an aquaculture licence to operate. The aquaculture licence and conditions of licence are designed to ensure the sustainable operation of enhancement facilities. Fish stocking licences are issued to the Freshwater Fisheries Society of British Columbia, which cultivates fish expressly for the purposes of releasing them into natural freshwater bodies to support public recreational fishing opportunities.

The following lists will be updated regularly to reflect changes in licence status:

DFO contact

For more information on enhancement projects and programs, please visit:

Freshwater / land-based

Freshwater/land-based aquaculture licensing in BC

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for licensing all aquaculture facilities in B.C. The aquaculture licence and conditions of licence are designed to ensure the sustainable operation and development of freshwater aquaculture.

The following list will be updated regularly to reflect changes in licence status:

Reference notes:

  • Region: In the case of freshwater facilities, the site common name may contain the address of the facility. For this list, in order to protect personal or proprietary information, only the region is identified.
  • Facility Type: Hatcheries raise juvenile fish from eggs. Once the fish reach a certain size they are moved to a grow-out facility, where they are allowed to grow until they reach the desired size for harvesting
  • Land or Water-based: Freshwater aquaculture operations may be conducted either on land or in a body of water, depending on the species being cultivated. For example, rainbow trout prefer cold water conditions and can be raised in dugouts, ponds or net-cages suspended in lakes. Fish that prefer a warm water environment, such as tilapia, thrive in land-based re-circulating tank systems which allow operators to carefully control temperature and water quality.

DFO contact

For general information about freshwater aquaculture licences please contact: Freshwater.Aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

Marine finfish

Finfish aquaculture licensing in BC

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for licensing all aquaculture facilities in BC. The aquaculture licence and conditions of licence are designed to ensure the sustainable operation and development of marine finfish aquaculture.

The following list will be updated regularly to reflect changes in licence status:

DFO contact

For general information about marine finfish aquaculture licences please contact: Marine.Finfish.Aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Shellfish

Shellfish aquaculture licensing in BC

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for licensing all aquaculture facilities in BC. The aquaculture licence and conditions of licence are designed to ensure the sustainable operation and development of shellfish aquaculture.

The following list is updated regularly to reflect changes in licence status. It provides assurance to shellfish processors that they are purchasing seafood from a licensed operation.

Reference notes:

  • The Pacific Fishery Management Area Regulations describe the surf line and divide the Canadian fisheries waters of the Pacific Ocean into areas and sub-areas that are often referenced when describing fishery openings and closures. Clicking on the area of interest will reveal a more detailed map illustrating the sub-areas.
  • Any shellfish aquaculture licence listed is authorized to harvest varnish clams (nuttallia obscurata) within the licensed area unless that area is closed by prohibition order.
  • The Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP) is delivered jointly by DFO, Environment Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and contains measures to ensure that bivalve shellfish (i.e., oysters, clams, scallops and mussels) are safe for human consumption. Under this program, conditional management plans are developed to allow shellfish harvesting in areas that may be periodically at risk for poor water quality. These plans clearly set out the circumstances which would trigger a temporary closure of the area to shellfish harvesting.

    In BC there are currently five conditional management plans in effect. The first four cover harvest areas near wastewater treatment plants in Ladysmith, Chemainus, Crofton and French Creek. In these areas, the conditional management plans are in effect to manage the potential risk of the release or discharge of wastewater materials beyond the normal operations of the treatment plant.

    The fifth conditional management plan applies to shellfish harvesting in Baynes Sound, the most active shellfish aquaculture region in BC. In Baynes Sound, water quality may be adversely affected when substantial amounts of rainfall occur over a relatively short period of time. This may lead to runoff from the upland areas and increase contamination levels in the marine environment. Baynes Sound is divided into three different areas, with each having an established rainfall trigger amount for temporary shellfish harvesting closures.

DFO contact

For general information about shellfish aquaculture licences please contact: Shellfish.Aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

FAQs

Frequently asked questions - aquaculture licence fees

What fees are aquaculture licence holders required to pay to DFO?
Answer:

The licence fees are comprised of two components:

  1. A flat fee applied to partially recover administrative processing and licence issuance costs under the British Columbia Aquaculture Regulatory Program; and
  2. An access-to-resource fee for finfish and shellfish licences for exclusive use of, and access to, the respective water column and surface area.

The administrative flat fee is charged whenever a licence is issued for a new facility, when licences are renewed or for changes of ownership. Access to resource fees must be paid annually.

Fee structure as of January 1, 2017
Answer:
Type of Aquaculture Licence Administrative Flat Fee Access to Resource Fee
Marine finfish $104 $2.60 per tonne of the maximum licensed biomass
Shellfish $104 $5.20 per hectare of the licensed tenure or area of cultivation
Freshwater/land-based $104 N/A

Since most freshwater operations do not have privileged access to a federally regulated resource (the freshwater column is considered a provincial resource), they are not required to pay access to resource fees.

Are any facilities exempt from paying fees?
Answer:

Yes. University facilities and facilities that are used for fish enhancement purposes are exempt. These facilities will still be subject to all other regulatory requirements and licence provisions.

Are fees charged for amendments?
Answer:

Approved amendments which have a direct link to the access to resource calculation for each sector will incur fees. For marine finfish, this would be any increase in production, and for shellfish, any increase in the tenure size (or licensed culture area for sites on private land).

If a site is sold, are any fees refunded to the original owner?
Answer:

No. Access to resource fees already paid would have to be part of the considerations when determining the selling price of the site. The new owner would be responsible for paying the $100 administrative fee.

What if a site is fallow?
Answer:

Marine finfish access to resource fees are tied to production (maximum licensed biomass). Sites that are fallow for the entire licence year are not required to pay access to resource fees for that period. If at any time during the 12 month period the site is stocked, the access to resource fees will be charged for the entire licence year.

Since access to resource fees for shellfish sites are tied to tenure size, they are not eligible for a fee exemption based on production level.

How are fees paid?
Answer:

Only online payments are accepted. The National Online Licensing System (NOLS) is used by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to collect payments related to commercial and commercial-communal fishing licences nationally, as well as recreational fishing licences in British Columbia and Eastern Canada (Atlantic Canada and Quebec).

What are the payment options?
Answer:

There are three methods of online payment. Payments can be made via the National Online Licensing System, either by credit card (Visa, Master Card, American Express) using the Receiver General Buy Button or by using Interac Online through the Receiver General Buy Button if using one of the six currently registered banks that offers this service (Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank, Scotiabank, TD Bank, Envision Financial, or Libro Credit Union). Finally, fees may also be paid online through a registered banking institution.

Frequently asked questions - aquaculture licensing in BC

What information should I read or know before applying for an aquaculture licence?
Answer:

Anyone applying for an aquaculture licence in B.C. needs to review:  

How can I apply for an aquaculture licence?
Answer:

For Pacific shellfish, marine finfish and freshwater/land-based aquaculture licences, applications and instructions, see: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-resource-use/land-use/crown-land/crown-land-uses/aquaculture.

How can I amend my existing aquaculture licence?
Is DFO accepting applications for new aquaculture facilities or applications for changes to existing aquaculture facilities?
Answer:

Yes, applications are being accepted; however, not for all species i.e.sea cucumber) or areas (i.e. Discovery Islands).

Under what circumstances am I required to obtain an aquaculture licence for freshwater/land-based aquaculture?
Answer:

If the fish raised in a land-based facility are for personal consumption then an aquaculture licence is not required. If the fish are to be sold as food fish, or given to another person who will sell them as food fish, you need to apply for a Pacific freshwater/land-based aquaculture licence. This requirement also applies to aquaponic facilities.

What is the fee structure for aquaculture holders?
Answer:

A fee structure for aquaculture licences is under development.

What species can I apply for in my aquaculture applications?
Answer:

The list of species considered low risk for introduction and transfer in B.C. by the Introductions and Transfer Committee (ITC) is available at: www.pac.dfo-mpo/aquaculture/intro-trans/index-eng.html. Note that there are some species acceptable for introductions and transfers that may not be approved for aquaculture.

If you have questions about species for aquaculture, contact Aquaculture Resource Management at shellfish.aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca marine.finfish.aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca or freshwater.aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

What happens to the aquaculture licence if I sell my business?
Answer:

If the business is sold with a valid aquaculture licence and the buyer wants to continue with the same management plan, the new owner only needs to submit a licensee amendment at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-resource-use/land-use/crown-land/crown-land-uses/aquaculture

If the new owner doesn’t want to keep the aquaculture licence, s/he needs to inform the Pacific Fisheries Licensing Unit at 1-877-535-7307 or at: aquaculture.licencing@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

What is the role of the Introductions and Transfer Committee (ITC)?
Answer:

The ITC reviews and approves applications for introductions and transfers of live fish in BC, into any (proposed) fish rearing facility or fish-bearing waters. This includes the introduction or transfer of live fish into (proposed) aquaculture facilities. The ITC can be reached at: FAMITC@dfo-mpo.gc.ca or for more information, read the ITC web page.

Are there a maximum number of licences provided for certain species?
Answer:

There are no limits to the number of licences for a given species.

How can I tell if my licence has been renewed?
Answer:

Your Pacific aquaculture licence renewal form will be mailed to you prior to the expiry date of your licence. Complete the form and mail it back to the Pacific Fisheries Licensing Unit. Once received, your licence should become part of the valid licence holders list after the expiry date. For more information, contact the Licensing Unit at 1-877-535-7307 or at: aquaculture.licensing@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

Can you send me an electronic copy of my licence renewal application?
Answer:

Yes, for an e-copy of your application, contact the Pacific Fisheries Licensing Unit at 1-877-535-7307 or at: aquaculture.licensing@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

How do I cancel my aquaculture licence?
Answer:

Contact the Pacific Fisheries Licensing Unit. They can be reached at 1-877-535-7307 or at: aquaculture.licensing@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

Where can I find an up-dated list of valid licence holders?
Answer:

A complete list of Pacific aquaculture licence holders by sector can be found at: www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/aquaculture/licence-permis/index-eng.html. Look for "Aquaculture Licensing Links” on the top right hand corner of the web page. Choose from Freshwater, Marine Finfish or Shellfish to view a list of current licence holders for that sector.

How do I find out about new aquaculture applications and how do I provide comments on new aquaculture applications?
Answer:

Applications for aquaculture facilities requiring new land tenures and information on how to submit comments can be found on the BC Ministry of Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, Land Tenures Branch web page.

Comments may also be submitted directly to DFO. For comments on shellfish: contact shellfish.aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca; for marine finfish, contact marine.finfish.aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca and for freshwater aquaculture, contact: freshwater.aquaculture@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

How do I transfer shellfish, marine finfish or freshwater fish?
Answer:

Your Pacific aquaculture licence conditions outline the circumstances whereby fish species may be transferred. Should these circumstances not be met, the ITC must approve the movement of fish into or within B.C. Contact the ITC directly at FAMITC@dfo-mpo.gc.ca or see the ITC website.

How do I import shellfish, marine finfish and/or freshwater fish into BC?
Answer:

To import such fish for aquaculture purposes, you must obtain a valid Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA) import permit, as well as an Introductions and Transfer licence, prior to transfer. See the CFIA website at: www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/aquatic-animals/imports/eng/1299156741470/1320599337624.

What conditions must be met in order to farm Tilapia?
Answer:

You need to apply for a Pacific fresh-water/land-based aquaculture licence. As well, the ITC reviews and approves applications for introductions and transfers of live fish in BC, including marine finfish, into any (proposed) fish rearing facility or fish bearing waters. This includes the introduction or transfer of live fish into (proposed) aquaculture facilities.