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New aquaculture regulations simplifies process: federal fisheries minister

CALGARY - New federal aquaculture regulations announced Thursday would cut red tape and simplify the process for the industry, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea says.

Shea said the regulations would harmonize 10 federal acts that operators are currently required to consult in order to comply with safety and environmental standards.

The changes are designed to encourage the development of the industry while ensuring the protection of fish habitats, she said.

"With our changes, the Fisheries Act conditions would clearly be spelled out and coherent with all other federal acts," said Shea during a media teleconference before a Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers meeting in Calgary.

The department said the regulations would be brought forward under the Fisheries Act and would set safety and environmental rules for operators, such as the use of products to treat their fish for disease.

It would also require the industry to report directly to Fisheries for things like the amount of pesticides used or unusual fish mortality. These reports would be posted on the Fisheries website annually.

Ottawa says the regulations will be published in the Canada Gazette within a month and public consultations will take place over the summer and into fall.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association welcomed the news.

"Salmon farmers in British Columbia have been asking for a modernized regulation of our farming practices for a number of years," said executive director Jeremy Dunn in a news release.

“We expect the new regulation will formalize our current farming methods, encourage positive environmental practices, reduce red tape, and bring all government departments and agencies onto the same page.”

Despite having the longest coastline in the world, the country continues to lag behind others in aquaculture and so the government started looking at a national approach to the industry two years ago,.

The reforms announced Thursday are part of the government's $54 million renewal of the Sustainable Aquaculture Program, said Shea. She said Ottawa hasn't ruled out the creation of a separate Aquaculture Act in the future.

Regulation of the industry is the sole responsibility of the provincial governments except in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island.

Shea said the government does not intend to take away that responsibility from the other provinces.

A landmark court decision in B.C. required that province to turn responsibility over to the federal government and Ottawa administers aquaculture authorizations in P.E.I. under an agreement between those two governments.

The federal government took control of regulating B.C.'s aquaculture industry in 2010 after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the province had to relinquish its jurisdiction because Ottawa has oversight of offshore fisheries.

The shift put the federal government in control of the cultivation of fish, enforcement of new Pacific aquaculture regulations and the conditions of licensing for fish farms.

B.C.'s salmon farm industry has been controversial and has been criticized by First Nations and environment groups who blame open-ocean salmon farms for spreading disease that they have blamed for collapsing wild salmon stocks in the Pacific.

A federal government research paper published on the industry in February 2013 highlighted the regulatory framework governing the industry as one of the challenges it faced, along with a decline in international demand for Atlantic salmon, the value of the Canadian dollar and its environmental impact.

It says legislation and environmental regulations vary from province to province, which could hinder the industry's growth.

Concerns have also been expressed by long-standing fisheries on the West and East coasts, where a large recreational fishery in B.C. exists and fishermen in Atlantic Canada fear the affect open net pens in the ocean could have on lobster, the paper says.

The federal government says Canada's share of worldwide aquaculture production in 2011 accounted to less than one per cent of the global total. The industry was worth more than $800 million to Canada in 2011, with British Columbia accounting for more than half of its value at more than $460 million.

— By Aly Thomson in Halifax

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