VIDEO: Aquaculture Management in BC

Fisheries and Oceans Canada staff explain their role in the management and regulation of the aquaculture industry in B.C.

Video Transcript

In British Columbia, the aquaculture industry is regulated and managed by the federal government. This responsibility includes monitoring farmed fish health, assessing potential impacts to the environment, and enforcing the Fisheries Act and Regulations.

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In a remote location off the east coast of Vancouver Island sits an Atlantic salmon fish farm. On this day in late February, members of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Aquaculture Management enforcement team are paying a visit.

Mike Ballard, Field Supervisor, Aquaculture Conservation and Protection Unit, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
It (aquaculture) needs proper government overview. It needs us to go out and ensure the proper conditions are in place to ensure sustainable management in this industry.

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They’re on-site to ensure fish farms are meeting the mandatory operating and reporting requirements, according to the federal rules and regulations. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is now responsible for regulating the aquaculture industry in B.C.

At each site, they spend hours checking the details, the protocols, the records, and the facility itself to ensure that the farm is meeting the required conditions of its federal aquaculture licence, and that the industry is managed in a sustainable manner.

It’s a tall order – it will take diligent work by the B.C. Aquaculture Management team to oversee sustainable development of the industry. There are currently over 700 aquaculture sites on the coast, including shellfish, marine finfish and freshwater sites.

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Enforcement officers, in addition to fish health personnel and other Aquaculture Management staff, may visit up to three farms a day. Many visits are an unexpected drop in. What is expected is that everything is in order.

Mike Ballard
We've gone upstairs and we've looked at all the records. We've looked at the inventory records and we've come out to the site now, and we've checked to see that their inventory control numbers on their nets, and the other equipment, matches the records upstairs.

We've done a visual inspection of the containment array to make sure that the nets are all taut and proper predator controls are in place.

What I’ve seen here today was very good.

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The regional Aquaculture Management unit within Fisheries and Oceans Canada was expanded when a court decision transferred control of the fishery from the province of British Columbia to the Federal Government in December 2010.

Under the Fisheries Act, the new Pacific Aquaculture Regulations were developed to ensure that the aquaculture industry in B.C. operates in a sustainable manner, with a goal of protecting the marine environment for future generations.

To undertake its new role, the department has gathered the needed resources and team members to patrol, enforce, monitor and manage the aquaculture industry in British Columbia.

Dr. Mark Sheppard
We first go out to monitor the farms, which each have a health management plan. We go out and monitor and assure ourselves that those health management plans are being followed.

We have two fisheries in place, one is the cultured fishery and the other is the wild fishery, and we want to make sure there is not something happening in one fishery that is going to affect the other fishery.

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After the fish health team completes their on-site evaluation, some of the fish can be brought back to this secure lab in Courtenay for more extensive testing if required.

Dr. Mark Sheppard
The goal for everybody, the farmers, the regulators and the public of course, is to have clean, wholesome, healthy fish.

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In addition to the staff working in the field, a dedicated Aquaculture Resource Management unit is responsible for consulting with stakeholders, evaluating industry-generated data, and liaising with provincial and federal departments to coordinate the assessment of licence applications and amendments.

On the water and in the lab, members of another unit, the Aquaculture Environmental Operations team, are hard at work. Members of this team travel up and down the coast visiting and auditing finfish and shellfish farms, as well as land-based fish farms. Still others on the team are charged with sea bottom testing.

Robyn Pearce, Biologist, Aquaculture Environmental Operations, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
We're setting up our davit and our grab right now so that we can do bed sampling, so that's sampling of the sediment on the sea floor.

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From May through September, the Environmental Operations group visits active fish farm sites, testing both hard bottom and soft bottom sea beds to measure any effects of fish farms on the seabed.

Thresholds and indicators have been set to help federal staff assess the impact that each fish farm has on its environment. For example, the measurement of sulphides in a sample provides a chemical indicator of impacts to the sediments under fish farms. If sulphide levels are too high, the decomposition of organic matter cannot occur, and a site must be left empty until these levels are deemed acceptable.

Robyn Pearce
We are specifically looking for compliance measurements that we have specified in our finfish conditions of licence.

We regulate based on the mean sulphide level. So when we get the sub-sample of sediments, right there on deck we take a sulphide measurement and a redux measurement, and that can give us an idea of whether they are in compliance within their thresholds or not.

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The federal regulation of the aquaculture industry in B.C. is an important undertaking.

It’s a role that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is well qualified to handle, being the manager of both the aquaculture industry and wild fisheries, which include commercial, recreational and First Nations harvesters.

This unique viewpoint allows the Department to take a balanced, coordinated approach to the stewardship and sustainability of one of Canada’s most important resources. In B.C., the management and regulatory conditions in place not only allow the aquaculture industry to succeed and thrive, but also protect our marine resources and the interests of Canadians.

Mark Sheppard
We want to make sure farming is done in a manner that is very sustainable and has as minimal effect as possible on the surrounding habitat.

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Please visit our website for more information. www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/aquaculture/index-eng.html