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DFO siting guidelines for marine finfish aquaculture in British Columbia

On this page

  1. Introduction
  2. Purpose
  3. Siting guidelines
  4. Science advice supporting siting guidelines development
  5. Review of these guidelines
  6. For more information

1.0 Introduction

The following guidance provides information from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on how applications for new marine finfish aquaculture facilities in British Columbia are assessed. The Department’s primary objective in applying these guidelines is to locate aquaculture facilities in areas that are best suited to minimize the risks to fish health and the aquatic ecosystem, consistent with regulatory requirements and a precautionary approach to management, while promoting an economically prosperous and socially sustainable industry. Applied in concert with the range of other management tools (e.g. conditions of licence, management plans, environmental monitoring), siting guidelines contribute to the strong regulatory and management framework for aquaculture in British Columbia.


In establishing these guidelines, the following key considerations were applied:

Aquaculture regulatory regime in British Columbia

As the lead federal agency responsible for regulating, licensing and monitoring aquaculture in British Columbia, DFO has a key role to play with respect to reviewing new applications for marine finfish aquaculture. The Province of British Columbia has legislative responsibilities for issuing tenures under the Provincial Land Act for marine finfish aquaculture facilities. Transport Canada is responsible for issuing authorizations for marine finfish aquaculture facilities relating to navigation under the Navigation Protection Act.

For DFO, the Fishery (General) Regulations (FGR), Pacific Aquaculture Regulations and Aquaculture Activities Regulations (AAR) are the principle Fisheries Act regulations governing the activity of marine finfish aquaculture in British Columbia. In addition to the requirements of the Species at Risk Act and the principles of the Oceans Act, these regulations frame the management and regulation of aquaculture activities on the Pacific coast.

2.0 Purpose

The purpose of these guidelines is:

3.0 Siting guidelines

The guidelines are organized into the following four themes identifying key management objectives and potential issues (risks) regarding the siting of proposed aquaculture facilities.

3.1 General siting considerations

Management objective: to ensure that new marine finfish aquaculture facilities have the required permits, tenures and authorizations; and that First Nation rights and title are respected.


3.2 Potential fish, fish habitat and environmental impacts

Management objective: to minimize potential impacts to the environment (e.g. seabed) that may result in a negative impact on existing commercial, recreational or aboriginal (CRA) fisheries or important/valued ecosystem components.

The primary mechanisms through which marine finfish aquaculture activities may impact fish, fish habitat and valued benthic ecosystem components are through:

  1. the release and deposit of waste material and unconsumed feed
  2. the drop-off of biofouling organisms which sink to the seafloor
  3. the effects of shading as a result of placement of farm infrastructure and
  4. the placement of farm infrastructure on the seafloor (e.g. anchor blocks)

The Department requires the proponent of each application to conduct surveys, undertake analyses and submit a set of comprehensive reports detailing the physical and biological characteristics of the ecosystem beneath and around the proposed site location. These include reports on:

The submitted reports are assessed by the Department during the application review process. Further detailed guidance on survey, analyses and reporting requirements are described in the harmonized Pacific Region Marine Finfish Aquaculture Application guidebook.


3.3 Potential impacts to existing fishery activities

Management objective: to minimize and/or mitigate potential impacts on existing fisheries. Within this objective, Aboriginal rights to fish for Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) purposes have priority, after conservation, over other uses of the aquatic resource.

The guidelines set out under this theme identify specific considerations used to review the potential impact of new aquaculture facilities on existing commercial, recreational and/or Aboriginal fisheries. The impact of any new facility will be assessed on a case-by-case basis in terms of the value of the fishery, employment benefits and other socio-economic factors. The Department ultimately seeks to strike a balance between providing additional aquaculture opportunities while maintaining viable and sustainable wild fisheries in B.C.

The primary mechanisms through which aquaculture activities have the potential to impact existing fishery activities are through

  1. physical displacement as a result of the siting of farm infrastructure including anchor lines
  2. alterations in the suitability of seafloor conditions to support existing fisheries (considered under section 3.2 above) and
  3. the requirement to establish Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP) "prohibited areas" around the aquaculture facility (as per the CSSP Manual of Operations)


3.4 Fish health and wild-farmed interactions

Management objective: to minimize and/or mitigate potential risks to the health of wild and farmed stocks resulting from interactions between wild and farmed fish.

The primary mechanism through which marine finfish aquaculture activities may potentially impact the health of wild stocks are through

  1. the release of pathogens from infected farmed fish and the potential for subsequent infection and disease transmission to wild fish and/or
  2. the release of sea lice from farmed fish and subsequent attachment to wild fish. Wild fish may impact the health of farmed stocks through similar mechanisms

Additionally, aquaculture facilities may pose risks to the health of farmed stocks at other facilities through similar water-borne transmission processes.

The Department’s management approach (including both siting guidelines and other management measures) is designed to mitigate potential risks to the health of all fish stocks – both farmed and wild. Siting facilities in areas that provide conditions to support good fish health will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks at aquaculture facilities and thereby potential risks to wild and farmed stocks.

Maintaining the health of farmed fish and mitigating potential risks from interactions between farmed and wild fish stocks are integral components of the mandatory Health Management Program (HMP). Among other things, the HMP lays out the protocols to monitor and manage sea lice; and ensure that aquaculture fish are monitored for infection and signs of disease. Additionally, the marine finfish aquaculture conditions of licence require that the facility operators take measures to manage on-site sea lice abundance to prescribed levels to minimize risks to wild stocks.

Scientific knowledge concerning the potential risks of pathogen and sea lice transfer between wild and farmed fish continues to develop and the Department will review its management approach in light of new scientific information and advances in health management practices and cultivation technology.


4.0 Science advice supporting siting guidelines development

These guidelines were developed to be consistent with current science knowledge and advice regarding aquaculture and potential interactions with the environment. Some of the guidelines do not have a science-based linkage (i.e. they are policy based or legal requirements), whereas others are directly connected to science advice that has been provided through the Department’s Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS). The CSAS review on Pathways of Effects for Finfish and Shellfish Aquaculture (CSAS Science Advisory Report 2009/071) formed the scientific basis for these guidelines. Emerging science on risks related to wild-farmed and environmental interactions will be incorporated in the DFO application assessment process as it becomes available.

With regard to the fish health and wild farmed interactions theme, it is noted that the mandatory Health Management Plan (HMP) and the facility Standard Operating Procedures outline best practices and represent the primary management measures used to mitigate potential risks to all fish stocks and has been developed over many years by Fish Health professionals. These siting guidelines further reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks at aquaculture facilities and thereby potential risks to wild and farmed stocks.

5.0 Review of these guidelines

As noted in the introduction, the Department is committed to review and revise the Siting Guidelines to incorporate new science knowledge and advice that becomes available. At a maximum, these guidelines will be reviewed on a 5-year basis.

6.0 For more information

For more information, please consult DFO’s website.

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