March 17, 2011
An Act for Fish Farms
Aquaculture industry needs updated legal oversight
According to the latest United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, per-capita seafood consumption has reached a record high.
With much of the world’s fisheries production holding steady, aquaculture — the farming of fish, shellfish and sea plants in marine or land-based facilities — is playing a growing role in meeting that demand. Aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing animal-food-producing sector, and is set to overtake wild fisheries output.
Canada’s $2.1-billion aquaculture industry is strong, but stagnant. Demand for our cultured seafood products remains steady. But while other countries ramp up aquaculture production, our industry is having difficulty expanding, largely because of inefficient legislation and co-ordinated opposition campaigns that spread false and outdated information to the public and politicians.
Meanwhile, the United States — the largest customer of Canadian farmed seafood — has a draft framework in place to aggressively expand its own aquaculture production and reduce reliance on imports. Norway, corporate headquarters to some of Canada’s largest salmon-farming companies, is in talks with Brazil to forge an aquaculture partnership. Chile, a major competitor to Canadian farmed salmon, is getting back on its feet after experiencing production setbacks. Rather than focusing on domestic opportunities — which are few and far between — our aquaculture industry is increasingly looking to other countries to expand operations.
With untapped marine resources, world-class scientists and a skilled workforce, Canada has the potential to become a major player on the global aquaculture stage. Fish and shellfish farming has become the only source of year-round employment in many coastal Canadian communities — particularly those where wild fisheries and forestry are in decline.
Canada’s farmed seafood products are known worldwide for quality and freshness. Yet we’re the world’s only major farmed seafood-producing country without national legislation specifically designed to govern and enable its aquaculture industry. Our farmed fish and shellfish operations are regulated by more than 70 different pieces of legislation — primarily the Fisheries Act, enacted decades ago for the regulation of the wild fishery, not the food production sector.
Politicians must stand up for this resilient, rapidly evolving industry. This support will encourage investment and employment in all Canadian provinces and get our industry growing again.
Along with clearly defined rights and responsibilities, an Aquaculture Act would bring increased investment to the sector, reduce regulatory costs to industry over the long term by cutting red tape, and encourage the sustainable use of our natural resources. The timing is right. Reducing regulatory costs would be in keeping with the federal government’s new Red Tape Reduction Commission.
In these times of global unease, food security is becoming a critically important consideration for all countries. Canada should be no exception. Canadian farmed seafood is affordable, sustainable and consistently available fresh, year-round. Encouraging more production makes sense — both for domestic consumption and exports.
Ultimately, a federal Aquaculture Act would enable Canada’s aquaculture industry to compete more effectively on a global scale, create more quality year-round jobs in our rural and coastal communities, and help sustainably meet the world’s growing demand for seafood.
The time has come for a federal Aquaculture Act.
Ruth Salmon is executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, which is headquartered in Ottawa. She lives on Vancouver Island.