Pacific Region Marine Finfish Integrated Management of Aquaculture Plan

3. Management approach

3.1 Federal-Provincial roles and responsibilities

The provincial government continues to play a key role in the management of the aquaculture sector. In December 2010, DFO and the Province of British Columbia signed an Agreement on Aquaculture Management which clearly defined federal and provincial responsibilities for the management and regulation of the aquaculture sector in British Columbia.

Under this agreement, the primary responsibilities of the federal government (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) include:

The Province of British Columbia remains responsible for:

Flowing from the Agreement, DFO, Transport Canada and the Province of British Columbia have developed a harmonized approach to aquaculture-related authorizations and decision-making.

To simplify the application and review process, the lead agencies have developed a harmonized application package for the collection of information necessary to apply for federal authorizations under the Fisheries Act (Pacific Aquaculture Regulations) and the Navigation Protection Act and, to apply for provincial authorization under the Land Act.

The harmonized application package must be used for all aquaculture applications, including new marine finfish and amendment applications, where one or more of the above-noted authorizations are required.

Depending on the specifics of the application, there may be other authorizations or permits required, such as a provincial Water Licence.

FrontCounter BC coordinates the receipt and distribution of information when an aquaculture application is submitted. DFO works with the Province of British Columbia and Transport Canada through a harmonized application and review process. The parties also work together to coordinate consultation with First Nations where aquaculture-related authorizations are considered by the three agencies (DFO aquaculture licence, Province of British Columbia land tenure, and/or Transport Canada Navigation Protection Act).

3.2 Siting considerations (criteria)

Siting of marine finfish aquaculture facilities is an area of joint federal and provincial jurisdiction. The Province of British Columbia is responsible for issuing tenures under the Provincial Land Act, which authorizes the use of space where an aquaculture facility will operate. DFO issues the aquaculture licence which allows the proponent to carry out the activity of aquaculture.

Siting considerations are outlined in the harmonized application form for marine finfish aquaculture, available online at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-resource-use/land-use/crown-land/crown-land-uses/aquaculture. Both DFO and the Province consider issues related to siting when reviewing aquaculture licence or tenure applications.

These considerations help British Columbia and DFO identify potential siting issues, which may be addressed through discussion with the applicant and possible revisions to the application.

A review of siting considerations was undertaken by DFO in 2014-2015 with a broad range of stakeholders and First Nations engaged in the review and discussion. Ongoing changes related to siting considerations are reflected in changes to the harmonized application and associated guidebook.

With respect to marine finfish aquaculture licences in the Discovery Islands Area (Fish Health Zone 3-2), decisions on applications for new marine finfish aquaculture licences and substantial amendments to existing marine finfish licences, where there is a potential for a significant increase in the environmental footprint in the area, will continue to be postponed until September 30, 2020. During this time, additional scientific research will be conducted and a new disease risk assessment process will be completed.

3.3 Environmental management approach

The conservation of marine ecosystems and wild fish stocks is a priority for DFO. The legislation, regulation, policies and a comprehensive suite of related management tools, along with relevant science and research, guide the effective management of aquaculture in British Columbia.

This regulatory framework allows DFO to effectively manage potential environmental impacts related to the cultivation of fish in the marine environment. Similar to the management of other fisheries, aquaculture facility licences provide very specific conditions and mandatory requirements that the aquaculture industry must meet in order to operate. Many of these conditions focus on the mitigation of potential impacts to the marine environment, while others focus on monitoring and reporting.

In addition to the marine finfish aquaculture Conditions of Licence and other regulatory tools, DFO has a robust environmental management approach aimed at identifying potential risks, including possible impacts on fish and fish habitat which support commercial, recreational and/or Aboriginal fisheries. The objective of DFO’s regulation of aquaculture in British Columbia is to ensure that the industry is sustainable and operates in a manner that minimizes risk to wild fish and fish habitat.

DFO staff, including veterinarians, biologists and other aquaculture technical experts support the development and implementation of the DFO environmental management approach. Staff work closely with aquaculture resource managers, Fishery Officers and Departmental scientists to identify and manage potential risks to the environment, and to ensure a high level of compliance with DFO regulations and Conditions of Licence.

DFO staff are responsible for:

DFO staff will conduct numerous site visits and environmental audits each year to ensure that industry-generated information and reports are accurate, such as sea lice counts and the results of benthic (seabed) monitoring. Staff also conduct targeted site audits and inspections to assess potential environmental impacts related to benthic performance, incidental catch, sea lice, marine mammal interactions and fish escapes, as well as to support the ongoing development of improved mitigation measures and best practices.

3.4 Marine finfish aquaculture licensing

Marine finfish aquaculture Conditions of Licence 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 associated regulations. The licence conditions define the responsibilities of operators, and assure processors and consumers that they are buying seafood which has been grown in a licensed, regulated facility. 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. In addition to the generic Conditions of Licence, site-specific conditions may also be included based on the characteristics of the facility, species cultivated, and geographic location.

Licences are issued for the operation of a specific aquaculture site and therefore companies and organizations with multiple sites must obtain a separate licence for each site.

In 2015 user fees were implemented by DFO for marine finfish licences within the Pacific Region. Fees are charged to operators on an annual basis. Information on aquaculture licensing and associated fees is available here: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/aquaculture/licence-permis/index-eng.html.

DFO issued licences which were of one-year duration for marine finish aquaculture in British Columbia from 2010 to 2016. In spring 2016, the Minister approved the issuance of multi-year licence terms for the shellfish and marine finfish aquaculture sectors. Marine finfish licences may be issued for a term of up to six years, with the exception of sites in the Discovery Islands area (Fish Health Zone 3-2) which continue to be licensed on an annual basis. This shift to longer licence terms provides greater stability for industry and increases investments in innovative, sustainable practices.

The basic template for a marine finfish aquaculture licence, as well as the current generic Marine Finfish Aquaculture Conditions of Licence, can be found here: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/aquaculture/licence-permis/docs/licence-cond-permis-mar-eng.pdf.

3.4.1 Conditions of Licence – General information

Together with the regulations, Conditions of Licence are used to regulate and govern the aquaculture industry in British Columbia. Failure to comply with licence conditions can result in investigation and enforcement actions under the Fisheries Act. The licence conditions cover a broad range of elements relating to the operation of marine finfish facilities. They set out specific requirements regarding the scope and nature of permitted activities including:

Below are more detailed summaries of key areas covered under the generic Conditions of Licence for marine finfish aquaculture in British Columbia.

3.4.2 Licensed species

The licence specifies the species of fish that are licensed for cultivation at the site and the maximum biomass of fish to be held within the facility.

3.4.3 Production plan

The licence holder is required to submit a production plan to the Department by January 15 and monthly thereafter, providing a seven month rolling inventory plan which includes: biomass, number of fish, age class, and harvest activities. Licence holders must also complete the Population Harvest Declaration Form which must accompany harvested fish to the processor.

3.4.4 Transfer of fish

All movements of fish require introductions and transfers licences. These are issued based on the National Code on the Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms which ensures that all genetic, ecological, and disease risks associated with movements of aquatic organisms have been adequately assessed and managed. Under the Code, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency plays the lead role in the management of disease risks.

3.4.5 Containment array requirements

These conditions specify requirements regarding the location and integrity of the containment array at the licensed facility. The licence holder is required to submit containment array plans that include the number and size of cages and locational information for each corner of the structures.

3.4.6 Fish health

These conditions specify detailed requirements related to monitoring and management of fish health, which complement requirements under the Health of Animals Act and Health of Animals Regulations administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. These conditions are in place to minimize the risk of disease transfer and mitigate risks to the health of cultivated and wild fish stocks.

The Conditions of Licence require licence holders to provide, and comply with, a detailed Health Management Plan (HMP) and/or Carcass Management Plan (CMP), as well as specific measures to be taken in the event of a fish health event.Footnote 18

Such measures include:

The licence also includes protocols for the storage and submission of fish health information, and the requirement to report on losses.

3.4.7 Fish health record

The licence conditions include additional requirements related to the maintenance and retention fish health records for stocking, fish health activity and the use of therapeutants, pest control products and anaesthetics which are kept at the facility.

Fish Health Event and carcass assessment records are to be assessed by the licence holder’s veterinarians, or fish health staff, in order to determine fish health patterns and to facilitate reporting.

3.4.8 Sea lice monitoring

Conditions of Licence lay out the sea lice monitoring program that operators in British Columbia must follow. Detailed protocols are designed to ensure that sampling is random and representative of the facility’s entire fish population. Aside from very specific instances in which operators are exempt from regular monitoring activities (as outlined in the licence), operators are required to abide by these protocols.

These conditions specify requirements for on-farm sea lice monitoring and associated reporting to the Department. Licence holders cultivating Atlantic salmon and trout are required to conduct sea lice monitoring every two weeks from March 1 to June 30. During this time the sea lice abundance must be maintained below a level of three motile Lepeophtheirus species (salmon lice) per cultivated fish. Should sea lice levels exceed this threshold the facility must notify DFO and initiate actions to reduce the absolute numbers of sea lice at the site.

Throughout the rest of the year, the Conditions of Licence require sea lice monitoring to be conducted once every month. In the event that the three motile Lepeophtheirus species threshold is exceeded during this period, the licence holder is required notify DFO, increase monitoring frequency to once every two weeks, and initiate management actions to manage the on-farm sea lice levels.

For sites cultivating Pacific salmon, sea lice monitoring is conducted during routine observations and handling of fish. As with the conditions for Atlantic salmon, should sea lice levels exceed the three motile lice threshold during the March-June period, the licence holder is required to provide a report to DFO.

3.4.9 Sea Lice, health and mortality reporting

In addition to the conditions described above, this portion of the licence specifies the requirements for detailed sea lice, fish health and mortality reporting to DFO. Licence holders are required to provide:

The results of the licence holder’s sea lice assessments are provided to DFO monthly. This data, along with DFO staff-conducted audit data, are posted quarterly on the DFO public reporting website.

Additional monitoring and reporting for fish health treatments is required under the Aquaculture Activities Regulations.

3.4.10 Escape prevention, reporting and response

These conditions specify requirements related to the prevention, reporting, and response to fish escapes. In addition to conditions requiring licence holders to take all reasonable measures to prevent escapes, specific conditions require all licence holders to have, and comply with, an Escape Prevention and Response Plan. In particular, the conditions require that licence holders take immediate action to control any escape (or suspected escape); report the incident to the Department; and provide a report regarding the incident as well as rectify any problems that may have contributed to the escape.

3.4.11 Incidental catch

These conditions specify that the licence holder use reasonable care in designing nets and other gear, and use all equipment in a manner that reduces the risk of incidental catch and causes the least amount of harm to those live non-cultured fish caught as incidental catch and subsequently released. The licence holder is required to retain and record all dead wild finfish captured during the transfer or harvest of fish or during net removal, and to dispose of them in a prescribed manner. Licence holders are also required to submit detailed incidental catch reports a minimum of every 12 months (for sites with fish continually on site) and within 15 days of the final date of harvest at the site (for production or grow-out sites).

3.4.12 Marine mammal management

This section specifies conditions related to the management of marine mammal interactions and the requirement to have a Marine Mammal Management Plan in place. Specific conditions require that licence holders use reasonable methods to deter marine mammals (e.g. seals and sea lions) from coming into contact with the facility, and report to DFO any accidental drowning or other mortality of marine mammals, as well as attempt reasonable measures to free any live marine mammal entangled in the site’s infrastructure. The use of acoustic deterrents is not permitted.

In the event that deterrent measures fail, the Conditions of Licence allow licence holders to kill harbour seals and California sea lions which represent an imminent danger to the facility infrastructure or human life and are within or attempting to enter the containment array structure (and cannot be deterred by other means).

All marine mammal fatalities must be reported to DFO within 24 hours. In addition, the licence holder must also submit a report of the details of the situation where marine mammals are killed under the authority of the licence within seven days of the event.

3.4.13 Protection of fish habitat

This section specifies the requirements to minimize and mitigate potential effects on fish habitat. These include maintaining on-site records related to in-situ removal of bio-fouling, ensuring that only anchoring equipment is in contact with the seabed, and appropriately disposing of site debris. Requirements for monitoring the benthic environment around the facility, along with the management of other deleterious substances, are now managed by the Aquaculture Activity Regulations. See Section 3.5 of this document for more details.

3.4.14 Use of lights

These conditions specify the reporting requirements for the use of lights on the licensed facility including the type, number and intensity of lights used, as well as dates and times when the lights are in use. This information is submitted to the Department on an annual basis.

3.5 Aquaculture activities regulations requirements

The Aquaculture Activity Regulations were enacted in July 2015, and set out specific operational and reporting requirements to legally deposit deleterious substances required for fish husbandry at aquaculture facilities and impose specific environmental monitoring and reporting requirements. To comply with the regulations, aquaculturalists must have measures in place to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any potential serious harm to fish and fish habitat.

3.5.1 Deleterious substances authorized

The Aquaculture Activity Regulations only permit the use of drugs authorized under the Food and Drugs Act, pest control products authorized under the Pest Control Products Act and the deposition of biochemical oxygen demanding matter, which is also referred to as organic matter and is generated from excess feed and fish fecal material. The use of drugs may only occur when prescribed by a veterinarian and their use is restricted to the operation and location of the aquaculture facility.

3.5.2 Mitigation

Aquaculture facility operators are required to take measures to minimize the risk of accidental deposits of drugs and pest control products. Before choosing to use drugs and pest control products, operators must consider non-chemical and non-toxic treatment alternatives. They must also document measures taken to minimize detriment from drugs, such as vaccinating fish, mechanical or biological pest controls and good fish husbandry such as appropriate stocking densities, reducing fish stress/injury and proper nutrition. They must also take reasonable measures to minimize impacts on fish and fish habitat outside of the facility, such as using food with good conversion rates and ensuring minimal feed wastage.

3.5.3 Drug and pest control product reporting

Operators must notify the Minister at least 72 hours before depositing pest control products; including the product name, time, date and geographic coordinates of the deposit.

After the deposit of any drug or pest control product, if fish morbidity or mortality is observed outside the facility within 96 hours after the deposit, the operator must notify the Department.

3.5.4 Seabed (benthic) monitoring and reporting

Facility operators are required to submit information to the Department for review prior to depositing deleterious substances. In the Pacific Region, this information must be provided at the time that an application is submitted for a new site or for an amendment to an existing licence. The AAR clarifies that the information required to assess benthic impact includes predicted contours of organic loading, (e.g. DEPOMOD outputs) survey data that identifies fish and fish habitat at the facility, site bathymetry, and sediment sampling where possible.

3.6 Management priorities

In addition to the management tools and measures outlined above, a number of management priorities have been identified for the next two to five years for marine finfish aquaculture. These priorities have been identified based on the broader strategic priorities of the Department, scientific research and ongoing environmental monitoring, as well as consultation and engagement with First Nations, industry, stakeholders and other levels of government.

It is anticipated that these priorities will be revised over time as work is completed and based on new science, monitoring and engagement with various interests. In particular, the MF-AMAC and bilateral aquaculture processes with industry and First Nations will be key vehicles for discussing and evaluating potential changes to our management approach.

The following management priorities and initiatives have been identified by the Department:

The following section provides a brief overview of each issue, DFO’s current management approach and potential considerations moving forward.

3.6.1 Integrated pest management approaches

Sea lice control in aquaculture is regulated, monitored, and managed to ensure there are measures in place to minimize risk associated with sea lice abundance in British Columbia’s coastal ecosystem. DFO will continue to work with industry and other partners to further improve sea lice management at aquaculture facilities. This could include the development of integrated pest management approaches and alternative treatment strategies. DFO will continue to investigate options such as area-based management, potential adjustments of ‘trigger abundances’ to guide management actions, and alternative control measures (or tools) such as low risk bath techniques to manage sea lice in aquaculture facilities.

3.6.2 Engagement and outreach on science and research

DFO continues to collect data and information related to aquaculture, and to undertake leading edge science and research to improve the management of the sector. In addition to increased investments in aquaculture science, DFO will enhance engagement opportunities for external groups to engage in DFO Science priority setting, completion of research, and reporting out. DFO also intends to work with external groups to increase transparency relating to the linkages between science and research and the decision-making process.

3.6.3 Wild/farmed interactions

DFO is committed to managing aquaculture in a manner which protects the health of wild and cultivated stocks in British Columbia. Although the current fish health monitoring programs conducted by British Columbia’s aquaculture industry and DFO are extensive and comprehensive, as new science-based information arises, regulatory and industry health programs must adjust and improve accordingly.

In 2014, as a part of continuing science work, DFO initiated the Aquaculture Science Environmental Risk Assessment Initiative (http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/aquaculture/sci-res/aserai-eng.htm). This initiative builds on the earlier Pathways of Effects for Finfish and Shellfish Aquaculture work completed by the Department (http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/CSAS/Csas/Publications/SAR-AS/2009/2009_071_e.pdf), supporting science-based decision-making with regard to aquaculture activities. The initiative will synthesize data and information, incorporate expert opinion, and provide scientific advice through a series of environmental risk assessments of the potential aquaculture stressors on wild fish and the environment across the country.