Aquaculture Licensing in BC

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

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

B.C. 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.

B.C. aquaculture licences clearly define the responsibilities of operators and assure processors and consumers that they are buying seafood from a licensed, regulated 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 the importation of eggs and the transfer of fish within certain geographic areas.

The process to acquire an aquaculture licence and tenure (if required) can take one year or more.

Conditions of Licence
Applying for an Aquaculture Licence
Siting Guidelines
User Fees
Licensing by Sector
DFO Contact

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; and
  • up to 9 years for shellfish.

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

Aquaculture owners and operators still have to 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 B.C. Failure to comply with licence conditions 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.

Depending on its Conditions of Licence, 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 conditions of licence 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 B.C. 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 B.C. 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.


The Province of B.C. has authority over land and foreshore use. Aquaculture operations that required a provincial lease or tenure before 2010, when the provice was responsible for regulating aquaculture in B.C. 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; 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.  

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 to a federally-regulated resource (the freshwater column is considered a provincial resource), these operations are only charged the flat fee portion.

User Fees FAQs

Licensing by Sector:

DFO Contact

For general information about aquaculture licences, including the licensing of enhancement facilities, please contact:

For general information about freshwater/land-based aquaculture licences, please contact:  

For general information about marine finfish aquaculture licences, please contact:

For general information about shellfish aquaculture licences, please contact:  

Reference Notes: 

  • Landfile Number: The provincial government issues tenures under the Land Act for aquaculture operations in B.C. 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.