A Dual Mandate: It has been the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' (DFO) mandate to regulate fisheries since its inception in 1868. The protection of wild stocks and their habitat has long been a priority and a mandate of the Department. But by the late 1980's, the promotion and management of aquaculture was also a priority. DFO now has a "mandate to protect and promote the health of wild fisheries resources...as well as a mandate to promote aquaculture, in the Pacific Region".1
"Aquaculture Science – Your future is our business!" – DFO info & contact sheet put out for industry.
This dual mandate is a conflict of interest, compromising the Department's ability to protect wild fish and regulate aquaculture. The ramifications have been the misdirection of resources away from regulating and researching wild salmon, which once represented a billion dollar industry in British Columbia. Wild salmon now suffer the consequences, which have manifested in pathogen and disease intensification from industrial salmon farming. DFO has been negligent to their responsibilities of the ecosystems and economics that depend on wild salmon. Despite the fact that their responsibility to protect wild fish is always reiterated in their correspondence and policies, it is clear that the Department has not done everything they could have to protect wild fish.2
DFO and Federal Fisheries Ministers have generally defended the development of the industry and their role in its regulation and promotion.3, 1 For example, in response to environmental and wild fisheries concerns raised in the BC Legislature in 1995, Federal Fisheries Minister Tobin wrote Minister Sihota of MOE explaining that the majority of the concerns fell under DFO jurisdiction, presumably meaning that MOE had no place in regulating the concerns (70). DFO, he explained, was committed to aquaculture's economic viability and recommended "the federal and provincial governments...work together cooperatively with the industry".3
Some government biologists, however, recognized the severity the impacts of salmon farming could have on our wild salmon. To risk the wild salmon was not worth the development of a new industry. Aquaculture, a MOE biologist argued, was "probably the most critical issue ever to face the maintenance of wild salmonid stocks".13
The salmon farming industry and our governments have a long-term relationship in BC
Norwegian salmon farmers began approaching the Canadian Federal government in 1982 about doing business in British Columbia. The promise of less stringent regulations in Canada made British Columbia a desirable place for Norwegian aquaculture companies to do business. As Jon Lilletun, Norwegian Parliamentary Committee member on Environment, told the Canadian government in 1990, "We are very strict about the quality and the environment questions. Therefore, some of the fish farmers went to Canada. They said we want bigger fish farms; we can do as we like. That is a very hot subject, I think."29
Regardless of general concerns regarding exotic species introductions, as well as the European experience of finfish aquaculture's deleterious impacts on wild salmon, the salmon farming industry was allowed to enter British Columbia in 1984. It was touted by the Department as being sustainable and compatible with 'traditional' wild fisheries.
"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is supportive of aquaculture growth and believes that the aquaculture industry can be compatible and complementary to existing fishery resource uses. Proper siting of aquaculture facilities and activities is essential as it will result in minimal effects on wild fish, their habitats and traditional fisheries".4
It was DFO's responsibility to minimize the impacts of introductions on fisheries resources. Department biologists and managers stressed that introductions would only be allowed if fish health regulations were stringent enough to protect wild stocks from disease and pathogen amplification.5, 6 However, by the early 1990's, the Department's concern for the health of wild stocks was equal to their concern for farmed stocks.7, 8 As salmon farming developed in British Columbia, there was a degradation of funding and resources, enforcement and empowerment of DFO's ability to regulate the aquaculture industry.9, 10
Complicated Regulation: The regulation of aquaculture was and is complicated because three agencies have been responsible – DFO, and the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAL) and Ministry of Environment (MOE). MAL became the lead regulatory agency in 1988. DFO and MOE were responsible for fish health and environmental assessment. MAL was in charge of enforcement, so anytime DFO and MOE wanted to enforce salmon farms in violation of fish health or habitat damage, MAL had to approve. This has resulted in years of DFO and MOE enforcement officers not being able to do their jobs correctly.
From the beginning, it was apparent that the coordination between two Ministries and a Department was leading to tension and confusion. There were often inconsistencies between federal and provincial regulations regarding importation, licensing, regulation, expansion, and fish health. There has also always been tension between industry and governments about what information was disclosed to the public.11 For example, it took Ecojustic and the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation four years to win access to sea lice records from fish farm companies, the reason being aquaculture companies deemed the information as proprietary.
Alexandra Morton has had numerous reports about the lack of federal and provincial enforcement of aquaculture. Farm sites or companies are not regulated even when enforcement officers know they are in offence. Common un-enforced offences include illegal bycatch, disease reporting to government, escape prevention, dumping of waste and morts and deleterious effluent.4 She also has had unconfirmed reports of officer suppression, whereby officers who try to regulate farms have been told from above to keep quiet.
Compared to other countries that regulate finfish aquaculture, MAL has a poor system for regularly monitoring or industry reporting on fish husbandry.2 As early as the mid-1980's, government biologists began to chastise both the industry and MAL for their attitude around regulations. Industry pressure on all three government agencies continued to rise against the Importation Policy. In correspondence to Blackburn of Sea Farm Canada Inc in 1986, a biologist from MOE wrote
"To start with a general comment, I am disappointed with what appears to be the prevailing attitude of a number of companies that fish health regulations to protect wild stocks are great, but give us an exception...If we continue the way the aquaculture industry seems to dictate, we can expect to introduce new diseases."12
Prior to 2001, aquaculture in BC had no requirement for monitoring and reporting on fish diseases or sea lice under a common protocol.2 Regulators also did not enforce mandatory actions for an appropriate triggering level of parasite abundance on the farmed fish.2
DFO knew that sea lice epidemics were harmful as early as 1991.
In the summer of 1995, farms on the east coast of Canada were experiencing a sea lice crisis and Pacific DFO Managers were made aware.14 Sea lice infestations on farms began to reach high intensities in British Columbia by 2001. Population level impacts on migrating juvenile salmon were generally denied by DFO. DFO assured their staff and concerned members of the public that there was no conclusive evidence of netpen operations along salmon migration routes being detrimental to rearing wild salmon stocks.17 At the same time, DFO admitted that no studies on migrating juvenile smolts had been done.9
Unfortunately, despite the Department's understanding of the basic ecology of sea lice infections and the threat they could pose to wild salmon from experiences in Europe and the east coast, they did relatively little at first to regulate and mitigate the impacts or acknowledge other research being provided by the academic and scientific community. Due to the immense public and scientific pressure, DFO began to research sea lice infection levels on juvenile salmon in 2001.15 The public was continually told that there was no evidence to suggest a sea lice crisis, but this was based on the fact there was insufficient information in the first place.15, 16 To make biological assumptions such as this is simply irresponsible.
Many independent researchers urged DFO to take the sea lice concerns of the rest of the scientific community seriously. For example, the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, at the time chaired by the Hon. John Fraser, released a report in 2002 for MAL and DFO Ministers regarding the conservation of pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago.18 Pink salmon populations had decreased drastically in the previous years, by more than had been observed in the past. The Council believed that the declines were associated with the sea lice infestation, considered the situation a crisis and advised DFO all possible assistance be made to pink smolts migrating past farms.18
DFO and Ministry of Environment biologists complained about environmental impacts of salmon farming as early as 1986.
Disease monitoring and fish husbandry standards for aquaculture are extremely low in British Columbia as compared to the rest of the world.2 DFO habitat and foreshore biologists began to notice environmental impacts from fish farms as early as 1985 (15, 9). Impact to benthic ecosystems, effluent discharge, and toxic substance release were all concerns, along with the government's ability to properly regulate and mediate environmental impacts (15, 80, 32, 5, Price et al. 2008). DFO biologists recommended that sites be routinely relocated to mediate these effects, a practice which occurs rarely today (15). In 1988, more DFO biologists identified a number of concerns with salmon farming, including site cleanliness and risk of disease transfer, antifoul paints, hatchery effluent, processing plant effluent, the oil slick from fish feed, and the treatment and cleaning of nets (15). Knowing that these environmental effects were real and accumulating but that resources to monitor them were limited, the Department did not take the correct measures to revitalize their regulatory abilities in order to keep up.2 DFO has pledged to develop "scientific tools" to investigate the impact that aquaculture is having on its surrounding environment, but there is little to indicate this has occurred.2
"Do we prepare public/user groups for the possibility [of reproducing escaped Atlantics], and strategically plant the seed now, or do we downplay the idea and deal with the situation if and when it occurs?" 19
The concept of escaped Atlantics settling in BC coastal rivers was always of concern to the public, academics and government biologists (49, 80, 61, 9, 56). In 1991, DFO recognized that continual escapes could lead to an established Atlantic population. DFO Managers wrote to each other on the subject, saying
"In my view it is only a matter of time before we discover that Atlantics are gaining a foothold in BC (residency)...Even if agreement cannot be reached on this assumption, what should our position be in responding to enquiries? Do we prepare public/user groups for the possibility, and strategically plant the seed now, or do we downplay the idea and deal with the situation if and when it occurs. Again I urge early attention...enquiries are becoming more frequent and the media is bound to pick up..."19
This did not go unnoticed by the other regulatory agencies. That same year, an MOE biologist wrote to DFO,
"I have the distinct feeling that the seriousness of the interaction between wild/farmed fish has been downplayed by some of your staff. Pat, hatcheries which currently are raising Atlantics do not comply with their licenses and escapes are occurring now. For sure, there will be some fish homing back to some of our stream systems. It remains debatable as to how many. Our client groups are going to be livid!".24
Since the 1980's, our government has not responded to concerns from the public, scientists, fishermen, and their own biologists about salmon farming.
Concerns: From the beginning of the aquaculture industry's development, provincial and federal biologists, academic and independent scientists, fishermen and members of the public were concerned about the risks associated with net-pen aquaculture.20, 21, 13 These were continually voiced to DFO and the provincial ministries. Major concerns include exotic disease introduction, pathogen and enzootic disease amplification, risk of sea lice transference to migrating wild salmon, environmental impacts, establishment of escaped Atlantic salmon, failure of the government to properly regulate the industry's growth and economic infringement on the wild salmon fishery.20, 21, 13 Unfortunately, many of these have manifested into very legitimate problems that require immediate attention, such as sea lice, disease and efficacy of enforcement.2, 20 The failure of government to properly consult members of the public and other industries that operated in areas affected by aquaculture was a constant source of frustration.21
Disease risk was always a concern to those writing and regulating import policies.4, 7, 3
"...As BC's most important marine and freshwater fisheries are based on salmonids there is a technical and public concern that diseases introduced with imported fish could significantly reduce natural salmonid production.
The public are concerned that allowing introductions to help the...aquaculture industry will put at risk the natural salmonid production, worth hundreds of millions of dollars...each additional importation increases the risk of introducing disease...
There has been considerable public concern expressed about importation of Atlantic salmon as a risk to local, natural salmon. The public have requested a ban on such imports but are likely to grudgingly accept limited imports with stringent controls...
Current regulation is not adequate to provide a publicly acceptable level of control of imports and spread of fish diseases."
- DFO briefing note prepared for Deputy Minister, 1987.21
"...I trust you and your staff fully appreciate that this question of the introduction of exotic races of salmonids into British Columbia is probably the most critical issue ever to face the maintenance of wild salmonid stocks...
I think you can understand our extreme caution with any endeavor that puts to risk such a valuable resource. Fundamental to our import policy is our deep concern that we might receive disease or strains of diseases that are not now present in BC...When we were first convinced to permit the introduction of Atlantic Salmon it was with the understanding that it was to provide a brood stock base for a diversified salmon farming industry. Now the rationale looks like it relates to a quick profit industry...
We are playing Russian roulette with an extremely valuable and irreplaceable resource. Who is going to accept responsibility when the first exotic disease outbreak occurs, because for certain it will".13
- MOE to MAL in 1986 regarding the current direction of the aquaculture industry
The lack of public consultation was worrisome even to some Department employees. In 1986, the Head of Salmon Assessment for DFO, a Fish Pathologist for DFO's Aquaculture Division, about Importations,
"Public hearings should be required!...DFO is protecting public interest and use of resources, the public has a right to be informed and to comment. This issue does bring other problems though...to whom do they comment, and how will the public values expressed be accounted for in decision processes?
...the membership of the Intro. and Transfers Committee does not list public interests; so how will the social values/ethics issues be accounted for?"23
The dissemination of scientific information by regulators has long been a concern of government, academic and independent biologists.24, 25 Hutchings et al. published a paper regarding the dissemination of scientific research by non-scientists in DFO.25 Their evidence is founded in the collapse of the Atlantic cod and the Nechako River flow reduction, which affected many species of salmon. Many suggest suppression and dissemination of information by DFO with regard to the aquaculture industry.26
"The fish health measures agreed to...by DFO...are not foolproof. They are based on statistical sampling, so we are taking a risk when it comes to the introductions of virus. That means a risk to the nearly one-billion-dollar wild salmonid fisheries of British Columbia".27
A major concern that has always existed in British Columbia is the economic impact of the salmon farming industry on the other industries and communities that depend on wild salmon.27 Not only does the farmed product compete with wild salmon in the market, it also presents disease risk to wild stocks, which in turn threatens many livelihoods. In 1990, DFO employees wrote to each other,
"Continued large-scale introductions...would eventually result in the introduction of exotic disease agents of which the potential impact on both cultured and wild salmonids in BC could be both biologically damaging to the resource and economically".28
The BC Ministry of Environment felt similarly, often reminding industry and government colleagues that,
"Government has made a commitment to support aquaculture, but surely not at the risk of a nearly $1 billion resource in the wild resource in the wild salmonid fisheries of British Columbia".21
Canadian fishermen, vessel owners and environmental groups warned all levels of government about the economic threat that salmon farming posed.22 The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union even went to Norway in 1988 to investigate the impacts the industry had had on the wild Atlantic fishery, returning home to BC with very negative impressions. Government mandate has always been that the wild and farmed fisheries could co-exist. Clearly, this sentiment was not and is not felt in the wild salmon economy. Economic viability of a new industry and legalities should have been second to DFO's sole mandate the time: the health and protection of wild, public fisheries.
1 December 11, 1996. DFO correspondance regarding DFO Fish Health report.
2 Porter G. 2006. An Audit of the Management of Salmon Aquaculture for the Protection of Wild Salmon in British Columbia. Prepared for the BC Pacific Salmon Forum.
3 March 17, 1995. Brian Tobin, Minister of Fisheries, writes to MOE Sihota, Minister of MELP regarding recent concerns raised with the aquaculture industry in BC's Legislative Assembly.
4 General DFO guidelines for development and operation of new culture facilities.
5 September 19, 1984. MOE writes to DFO regarding the economic development opportunities of salmon farming.
6 July 9, 1985. DFO correspondence regarding accumulated risk of disease with egg importation.
7 Jan 23, 1991. DFO writes to External Affairs & International Trade defending Canada's position on importation of Atlantic salmon.
8 January 16, 1990. DFO writing to BC Trout and Char Producers regarding Prov/Fed management of aquaculture.
9 May 20, 1997. DFO correspondance - recommends sampling of wild stocks to better understand pathogen distribution.
10 Price M, Darimont C, Temple N, and MacDuffee S. 2008. Ghost runs: management and status assessment of Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) returning to British Columbia's central and north coasts. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 65(12): 2712-2718.
11 Series of FOI documents obtained in December of 1995 by Karen Wristen, Seirra Legal Defence Fund, pertaining to "Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks regarding sea lice".
12 November 7, 1986. MOE writes to a salmon farming company addressing a number of concerns with importation of eggs and industry attitude.
13 November 7, 1986. MOE writes to MAL regarding Fed-Prov Draft Policy on Salmonid Imports.
14 August 1, 1995: DFO cc'ed on an Atlantic coast memo regarding sea lice crisis and appropriate drugs to use.
15 Collection of documents obtained by Sierra Legal pertaining to DFO's response to sea lice infestations.
16 March 11, 1997 – MOE commentary on the Salmon Aquaculture Review.
17 June 1, 1993. Partial transcript of meeting held at Echo Bay community hall with residents and DFO officials.
18 November 2002. PCFCC report to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the BC Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. 2002 Advisory: The Protection of Broughton Archipelago Pink Salmon Stocks.
19 February 19, 1991. DFO correspondence regarding the direction of aquaculture strategy.
20 December 2000. Chapter 30: Fisheries and Oceans – The Effects of Salmon Farming in British Columbia on the Management of Wild Salmon Stocks. Report of the Auditor General of Canada.
21 1987. Briefing note to Deputy Minister, prepared by DFO personnel. Summary of Fed-Prov Policy for Importation of Live Salmonids into British Columbia.
22 July 14, 1988 – Correspondence between the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union and MOE.
23 November 6, 1986. MOE writes to a salmon farming company, reminding them of the value of the wild salmon fishery and the risk of disease.
24 September 30, 1991. MOE writes to DFO regarding changes to import policy and attitudes regarding escaped Atlantics.
25 Hutchins, J.; Walters, C. and Haedrich, R. 1997. Is scientific inquiry incompatible with government information control? Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 54: 1198-1120.
26 April 1995. Narver, D. Atlantic Salmon Farming – Ethical and Political Quicksand. Bioline (RPBio Publication).
27 February 19, 1991. DFO correspondence regarding direction of aquaculture strategy.
28 1990. DFO correspondence regarding the risk of continued introductions.
29 December 9, 1990. Hansard document regarding Jon Lilletun.