Pacific Region Marine Finfish Integrated Management of Aquaculture Plan

Background and overview of the sector

1.1 Background

In December 2010 the Government of Canada assumed primary responsibility for the regulation and management of aquaculture in British Columbia. As the lead federal agency, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO, the Department) is responsible for regulating, monitoring and licensing all marine finfish aquaculture operations in the province of British Columbia. Under the authority of the Fisheries Act, the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations and on a national level the Aquaculture Activity Regulations were developed under the Fisheries Act to govern the management and regulation of the aquaculture industry. The Department also established the British Columbia Aquaculture Regulatory Program (BCARP) to support implementation of the regulations and day-to-day management of the sector.

While the DFO is the lead federal authority governing the regulation of the aquaculture industry, other federal departments and provincial agencies also have roles in managing and regulating various aspects of aquaculture management in British Columbia. For example, Transport Canada is responsible for reviewing applications with respect to the protection of navigable waters in Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has jurisdiction related to aspects of fish health and processing.

The Province of British Columbia remains responsible for authorizing the occupation of provincial aquatic Crown land associated with aquaculture operations. Aquatic Crown land refers to land below the visible high tide water mark of a body of water, extending offshore to the recognized limit of provincial jurisdiction, including the foreshore. In some cases, zoning, administered by local governments, applies in marine and foreshore areas.

Under the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations, aquaculture is defined as “the cultivation of fish.” The marine finfish Integrated Management of Aquaculture Plan (MF-IMAP) is concerned with the cultivation of fish in a marine environment. Fish are considered cultivated when there is human intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking, feeding, and protection from predators. Cultivation also implies individual or corporate ownership, control, and responsibility for the stock being cultivated.

In addition to the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations, which pertain only to aquaculture sites in British Columbia, the Aquaculture Activity Regulations provide nationally consistent conditions under which aquaculture operators may treat their fish for pests and pathogens, as well as deposit organic matter (e.g. fish feed and feces), while ensuring the protection of fish and fish habitat and sector sustainability. The Aquaculture Activity Regulations were designed to align policies across federal and provincial regulatory jurisdictions related to the operations of aquaculture facilities. The Aquaculture Activity Regulations provide operational certainty across Canada, while ensuring environmental protection and reporting.

The MF-IMAP outlines the overall management framework for marine finfish aquaculture in British Columbia, as well as current management priorities. The process of cultivating finfish throughout a life cycle may fall under more than one IMAP (e.g. freshwater/land-based and marine finfish). This includes the situation where juvenile marine finfish are reared on land and then transferred to marine net pens at some stage of their life cycle.

Consistent with its overall management of fisheries, DFO has established advisory processes to support the development of IMAPs and to provide a mechanism for feedback to DFO regarding the management of aquaculture in British Columbia. The marine finfish Aquaculture Management Advisory Committee (MF-AMAC) is an advisory body which was established in 2013. The MF-AMAC terms of reference provides seats for First Nations, marine finfish aquaculture licence holders, industry associations, environmental interests and local government. DFO and the Government of British Columbia are ex-officio participants of the committee. The Terms of Reference for the MF-AMAC, along with contact information and a schedule of meetings, are available through the DFO Pacific Region website.

The MF-AMAC provides advice and recommendations to DFO with respect to the management of marine finfish aquaculture in British Columbia. The committee reviews the MF-IMAP on a regular basis.

In addition, DFO undertakes bilateral consultation with individual First Nations, and works with the First Nations Fisheries Council in order to engage British Columbia First Nations in discussions related to aquaculture management and decision-making. The Department also meets with other organizations through bilateral processes to engage these constituent groups in discussions related to the management of aquaculture in British Columbia.

1.2 Sector overview

DFO currently licenses approximately 116 marine finfish aquaculture facilities with a total combined allowable peak biomass of approximately 282,975 tonnes. Footnote 1 Generally about 60% of these facilities have fish in production at any given time. A list of all current marine finfish aquaculture licence holders is available on the DFO website.

1.2.1 Cultivated species

The majority of marine finfish aquaculture licences are issued for salmon, with Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) being the most commonly cultivated fish in British Columbia. Other marine finfish being actively farmed on a commercial basis in British Columbia, all indigenous to the Pacific coast of Canada, include: chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha); coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch); rainbow/steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss); and black cod (Anoplopoma fimbria), also known as sablefish.

Copper rockfish and wolf eel are cultivated on a smaller scale and are currently being tested for feasibility by aquaculturists and research institutions.

Atlantic salmon are a preferred species for marine finfish cultivation around the world. Domesticated Atlantic salmon feed well on pellets, are valued by industry for their feed conversion ratio and growth rates, and their ability to adapt to the confines of a net pen.

Atlantic salmon are not native to British Columbia waters. Between 1905 and 1935 there were a number of attempts to introduce Atlantic salmon to British Columbia rivers for recreational fishing purposes, but these were unsuccessful. The Atlantic Salmon Watch Program was established in 1991 to document sightings and captures of Atlantic salmon in British Columbia waters. Although targeted stream surveys have been undertaken in areas where the presence of Atlantic salmon has been reported, or might have been most probable to occur, research has not yielded data showing that there are any feral Atlantic salmon populations (regenerating in the wild) in British Columbia. A related published paper is available online. Members of the public who feel they may have found an Atlantic salmon should report their catch to 1-800-811-6010 or

1.2.2 Cultivation methods

Marine finfish aquaculture operations have infrastructure both below and above the water surface. Facilities consist of containment structures (net pens) typically comprised of between ten and fourteen square or circular cages which may be surrounded by metal walkways. Square cages are generally 30m X 30m and the diameter of circle cages is generally 90m or 120m. Containment structure arrays are held in place by a series of anchors and lines which radiate out from the infrastructure. Containment nets must be regularly inspected, repaired and tested to ensure they are in good repair and strong enough to prevent fish escapes, with mesh sizes that vary depending on the size of fish being reared at a facility. Predator netting is often attached around the containment nets to discourage marine mammals and other predatory fish (e.g. dogfish) from trying to gain access to the fish on the site.

The majority of facilities have associated infrastructure including an office, a fish health/phytoplankton lab, space for a generator, fish food and mortality storage areas, floats, docks, and accommodation for staff. Most facilities are located in remote areas around northern and western Vancouver Island and, to a lesser degree, the central coast of British Columbia and Sechelt Inlet.

In addition to typical marine-based finfish facilities, there is one multi-trophic aquaculture facility in British Columbia which cultures seaweeds, shellfish and finfish at the same facility.

1.2.3 Aquaculture operations and characteristics

Pacific salmon have been cultivated at freshwater hatcheries in British Columbia since the early 1900s. The original goal of these enhancement facilities was to augment the number of wild salmon and support commercial and (later) recreational fishing opportunities.

In the mid-1980s the aquaculture industry began farming Atlantic salmon in British Columbia, importing eggs from domesticated stock in Europe. Today, most aquaculture companies harvest eggs from their own fish which have been reared in British Columbia over several generations and are bred for traits that allow them to thrive in the local marine environment. In some cases DFO provides limited access to wild or enhanced local fish stocks for broodstock development. Access of this kind is provided through the DFO Policy for Access to Wild Aquatic Resources as it Applies to Aquaculture.

Licensees may apply for an introductions and transfers licence to import eggs from outside of Canada. Imported eggs must meet stringent requirements as set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the federal regulatory authority on disease risk management of fish imports. With respect to Atlantic salmon, there have been no eggs imported for commercial aquaculture purposes since 2009. There have been imports of sablefish eggs and fry within recent years, as this new industry works to establish an effective, self-sustaining broodstock program.

Information relating to the process of applying for an introductions and transfers licence is available.

The life cycle of a cultivated salmon begins in a freshwater hatchery. As fry emerge from their eggs, they are transferred into troughs or tanks, where they are provided with a continuous flow of water and a diet appropriate to their size. As the fish grow, they are moved into different tanks to maintain the desired stock densities. Cultivation of species such as sablefish may also use hatcheries and tanks to breed and rear young fish. More information regarding freshwater/land-based aquaculture, including the generic DFO Conditions of Licence can be found online.

Juvenile fish are generally kept in a controlled setting to provide optimal growing conditions and protection from disease and predation. Vaccination occurs in the juvenile stage, most commonly by injection, prior to transfer from the hatchery to the open marine environment or to land/ marine containment facilities.

There are several different types of marine sites. Broodstock sites usually hold a relatively small number of adult fish for breeding; typically 5,000 to 50,000 fish. Smolt-entry sites may hold up to 1.5 million fish at a time. These fish are then moved to grow-out sites. The most common type of site is one where fish enter as smolts and remain until they are ready to be harvested. The number of salmon grown at a marine finfish aquaculture facility of this kind during a typical production cycle ranges from around 200,000 to 650,000 with a peak biomass of several thousand tonnes.

Good husbandry practices discourage frequent handling of fish as this increases stress on the animals and can have a negative impact on their health. Fish are often graded (separated according to size and maturity) when they enter a facility so that fish in various pens/tanks will be ready for harvest around the same time and will not require further handling. At harvest fish are removed from the facility and transported either alive or dead to processing plants.

A production cycle, including broodstock selection, hatchery production, grow-out schedules and other factors, can take up to five years. A typical Atlantic salmon grow-out cycle from stocking of smolts to harvesting of adults is approximately 20 – 24 months. For Pacific salmon, the grow-out cycle is typically shorter, approximately 18 months for chinook and 15 months for coho. Additional information relating to the management and licensing of facilities dealing with the early life stages of marine finfish is available in the freshwater/ land-based Integrated Management of Aquaculture Plan.

1.2.4 Locations of licensed aquaculture facilities

Most marine finfish aquaculture sites in British Columbia are located within a few specific areas: the West Coast of Vancouver Island, northern Vancouver Island (North Island Straits and the Broughton Archipelago), eastern Vancouver Island (the Discovery Islands/ upper Johnstone Straits area), Sechelt Inlet, and British Columbia’s Central Coast. The map below provides an overview of the locations of marine finfish aquaculture sites licensed in May 2015.

Map of 2016 Marine Finfish Aquaculture in British Columbia, showing Licensed Marine Finfish Aquaculture Facilities; 
					0917228 B.C. Ltd., 622335 British Columbia Ltd., Cermaq Canada Ltd., Creative Salmon Company Ltd., Golden Eagle Sable Fish Inc., 
					Grieg Seafood BC Ltd., Kyuquot Seafoods Ltd., Marine Harvest Canada Inc., Omega Pacific Seafarms Inc., Totem Sea Farm Inc., 
					and Yellow Island Aquaculture (1994) Ltd. Last updated: 15-11-2016.
Licensed Marine Finfish Aquaculture Facilities (15-11-2016) map
0917228 B.C. Ltd.
622335 British Columbia Ltd.
Cermaq Canada Ltd.
Creative Salmon Company Ltd.
Golden Eagle Sable Fish Inc.
Grieg Seafood BC Ltd.
Kyuquot Seafoods Ltd.
Marine Harvest Canada Inc.
Omega Pacific Seafarms Inc.
Totem Sea Farm Inc.
Yellow Island Aquaculture (1994) Ltd.

1.3 Economic profile of the aquaculture industry

Canadian Aquaculture Total GDP Impacts - 2010

Canadian Aquaculture Total GDP Impacts - 2010 Pie Chart. 
					Proportion of total GDP impacts in 2010 broken down as follows: BC (42%), NB (12%), NS (5%), PEI (6%), Nfld (9%), 
					Ont (11%), Que (7%) and others (8%).
Canadian Aquaculture Total GDP Impacts - 2010 Pie Chart - Table version
Province/Territory Total GDP Impacts
Nfld 9%
PEI 6%
NS 5%
NB 12%
BC 42%
Que 7%
Ont 11%
Others 8%
Canadian Aquaculture Direct GDP Impacts - 2010 Pie Chart. 
					Proportion of direct GDP impacts in 2010 broken down as follows: BC (52%), NB (14%), NS (5%), PEI (12%), Nfld (13%), Ont (2%), and Que (2%).
Canadian Aquaculture Direct GDP Impacts - 2010 Pie Chart - Table version
Province/Territory Direct GDP Impacts
Nfld 13%
PEI 12%
NS 5%
NB 14%
BC 52%
Que 2%
Ont 2%

Canada is the 26th largest producer of aquaculture products in the world and the fourth largest producer of salmon after Norway, Chile and the United Kingdom. Footnote 2 Aquaculture production occurs across Canada, with the bulk of production occurring in the Atlantic provinces and British Columbia. In 2013, Canadian aquaculture production had a farmgate value of almost $1.0 billion.Footnote 3 Finfish accounted for about 90% of the value. The British Columbia aquaculture industry is the largest in Canada, with producers accounting for 55% of Canadian finfish value ($0.9 billion).

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the value added to the economy by an activity and includes wages, owner profits, returns to invested capital, changes in inventories and depreciation. The aquaculture sector can affect the economy through direct, indirect and induced impacts. Footnote 4 In 2010 (the last year for data is available), the direct contribution to Canadian GDP from aquaculture was about $354 million, of which $185 million was in British Columbia (0.09% of the British Columbiatotal GDP). The indirect effect was an additional $464 million in Canada and $173 million in British Columbia. The induced effects added $246 million to Canadian GDP, $95 million of which was in British Columbia. The overall impact on the GDP of Canada was $1.1 billion (0.07% of total Canadian GDP), of which $452 million was in British Columbia (0.21% of total British Columbia GDP). British Columbia accounts for a larger share of direct impacts than total impacts as there are substantial indirect and induced impacts in Ontario and Quebec, both of which have limited aquaculture production.

B.C. Salmon Production Bar Chart.
B.C. Salmon Production Bar Chart - Table version
Year Cultured Atlantic (tonnes thousands) Cultured Pacific (tonnes thousands) Captured (tonnes thousands)
2007 73.3 5.6 20.2
2008 77.2 4.2 5.4
2009 72.7 3.6 18.5
2010 74.5 4.2 23.6
2011 79.4 3.8 20.4
2012 72.9 5.5 9
2013 73.3 8.2 17.3
B.C. Salmon Nominal Values Line Chart.
B.C. Salmon Nominal Values Line Chart - Table version
Year Atlantic Farm-Gate ($ millions) Atlantic Wholesale ($ millions) Capture Landed ($ millions) Capture Wholesale ($ millions)
2007 352.1 420.2 31.6 182.1
2008 381.8 455.5 21.6 137.9
2009 370.5 461 23.7 143.5
2010 470.3 520.2 70.6 240.9
2011 408.9 457.6 48 221.6
2012 349 384.5 26.4 168.2
2013 432.1 516 24.8 178.2

There are a number of ways to measure aquaculture production, including: quantity produced (tonnes), farm-gate value,Footnote 5 final product value,Footnote 6 and wholesale value.Footnote 7 Since finfish aquaculture producers may be highly integrated, the final product value, which is the value of final products sold into the wholesale market by Canada’s aquaculture companies, may more completely capture the value of the product that leaves the aquaculture operation. However, data on final product values are not updated on a regular basis. Wholesale value net of the farm-gate value is a measure of increase in output value from processing.

Salmon is the primary finfish cultivated in Canada. In 2013, British Columbia produced almost 75% of Canada’s cultivated salmon, with the remainder produced by New Brunswick (19%) and Nova Scotia (7%). Footnote 8 Salmon accounts for about 99% of British Columbia’s finfish aquaculture and averaged production of almost 80,000 tonnes between 2009 and 2013, which is more than four times the capture salmon harvest average. Almost 94% of British Columbia’s marine finfish aquaculture production is Atlantic salmon and about 5% is Pacific salmon, which includes chinook, coho, and steelhead.Footnote 9 Sablefish, (also known as black cod) is grown on a relatively small scale; other cultivated finfish are in freshwater (e.g. sturgeon, tilapia and rainbow trout). Within British Columbia 78% of farmed salmon is produced under agreement with First Nations.Footnote 10

The economic contribution of cultivated salmon to the GDP of British Columbia has exceeded the contribution of all the salmon capture fisheries since 1996, as the percentage of the market occupied by capture fisheries declined and the salmon aquaculture market share grew.Footnote 11 Cultivated salmon now account for about 59% of the landed/farm-gate value of seafood in British Columbia and approximately 42% of the wholesale value. Footnote 12 On average between 2009-2013, the total wholesale values for Atlantic salmon were slightly more than double that for all capture salmon combined, while farm-gate value has been more than ten times that of landed value.

1.4 Employment

Most salmon farming jobs in British Columbia are full-time, year-round, and located between Comox and Port Hardy, along the corridor created by Vancouver Island and the mainland. There are also a number of fish processing plants in the area to handle aquaculture products, although the employment impacts from processing aquaculture products are relatively low. This appears to be due to the fact that aquaculture producers often harvest and do significant cleaning and gutting of the fish, so some of the production impacts are a result of this in-house processing activity. Additionally, much of British Columbia cultivated salmon is sold in a product form with relatively low value-added (e.g. chilled/frozen gutted/headed whole fish) reducing employment requirements per unit of production, compared to other products (e.g. fillets).

The aquaculture labour force is young in comparison to capture fisheries. In British Columbia, people under 40 years of age hold about 60% of aquaculture jobs, compared with only 30% of positions in the capture fishery.Footnote 13 As with GDP, job impacts from aquaculture may be direct, indirect and induced. Employment is measured in full-time equivalents (FTEs) or person-years (PY) which are similar. About 30% of the workforce at facilities is comprised of First Nations.Footnote 14

Statistics Canada estimated that the aquaculture sector in British Columbia employed an average of 1,700 people in both 2010 and 2011, although given the small size of the industry these numbers should be viewed with caution. Income declined by 5% from $58.5 million in 2010 to $55.7 million in 2011. Footnote 15

Table 1: Estimates of Employment impacts in 2010 by total aquaculture and salmon aquaculture in British Columbia, based on estimates of revenues and using multipliers (BC Stats 2013) (Prod = primary production, Proc = processing facilities). Jobs are measured in number of employees, and income is measured in thousands of dollars (nominal).

  Total Aquaculture Salmon Aquaculture
  Jobs Income Jobs Income
  Prod Proc Prod Proc Prod Proc Prod Proc
Direct 1,918 443 85,472 15,860 1,794 337 79,952 12,040
Indirect 1,870 170 101,498 10,309 1,749 129 94,943 7,826
Induced 395 52 21,368 2,379 370 40 19,988 1,806
Total 4,183 665 208,338 28,548 3,913 505 194,883 21,672

A recent report commissioned for the Mt. Waddington Regional District on the northern end of Vancouver Island estimated that the finfish aquaculture industry directly contributes $19.2 million in wages and 400 person-years of employment annually, which comprises a significant portion of the local economy. Footnote 16

1.5 Markets and prices

The main product for British Columbia farmed salmon is chilled/frozen gutted/headed whole fish with an export value of $7.85/kg in 2014. Processed products such as fresh fillets received nearly $15/kg but they only comprise a small share of exports (less than 2% of volume exported from 2009-2013). The main markets for British Columbia aquaculture are the domestic market (approximately 55% of British Columbia wholesale value), the United States (approximately 42% of British Columbia wholesale value) then, a distant third, Japan (in 2014).

Value of BC Exports of Atlantic Salmon (constant 2014 dollars) Bar Chart
Value of BC Exports of Atlantic Salmon (constant 2014 dollars) Bar Chart - Table version
Year United States ($ Millions) Japan ($ Millions) Other ($ Millions)
2000 262,225,545 2,114,394 9,844,147
2001 433,946,094 5,554,241 14,698,582
2002 463,107,455 5,324,582 7,331,102
2003 346,490,484 8,369,089 11,237,431
2004 237,715,197 8,064,647 13,973,599
2005 274,014,216 16,585,981 22,631,572
2006 329,799,238 19,607,800 16,808,359
2007 345,100,690 8,359,643 5,056,284
2008 334,760,627 18,495,210 10,182,737
2009 356,783,484 6,504,116 3,765,219
2010 335,711,880 4,894,551 5,854,810
2011 319,547,169 4,435,873 5,084,713
2012 288,352,098 5,361,378 5,706,465
2013 254,407,848 10,996,025 5,354,378

Global demand for all salmon has grown steadily, in part due the development of new markets by Norway and Chile, the major farmed salmon producers.Footnote 17 Chile remains Canada’s main competitor in the US market for farmed salmon. Canada primarily supplies the US with whole salmon (lower value-added), while Chile is the main supplier of value-added products such as fillets (where the cost of transportation represents a lower share of the overall market price).