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Canada needs to lead in aquaculture

Published with permission from the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal


Contributor Ruth Salmon argues that Canada’s aquaculture industry is falling behind the international competition.

Aquaculture today is among the fastest growing food sectors in the world accounting for nearly 50 per cent of the world’s total fish production.

But that’s just the start. According to the United Nations, aquaculture will increase to two thirds of global food fish consumption by 2030. Demand for aquaculture will dramatically increase and in the process it will become a vital source of jobs, nutritious food and economic opportunities in the future.

Few jurisdictions can match Canada’s natural advantages when it comes to aquaculture – an enormous coastal geography, an abundance of cold, clean water, a favourable climate, a rich marine and fishery tradition and established trade routes to the United States, Asia and Europe.

Unfortunately, Canada has yet to fully capitalize on the aquaculture opportunity, or what many would assume to be its natural global leadership position. Production of aquaculture in Canada has stagnated since 2000, and in that time over 47 per cent of its share in global aquaculture market has been lost to global competitors.

The cause of what’s holding back aquaculture in Canada is clear. A federal and provincial regulatory system that is complex, uncertain and confusing. The industry has been flatlined by a lack of regulatory consistency and transparency. Investment opportunities have been lost and global competitors have benefited. To put this in perspective, as Canada has stalled, its global competitors have grown by a robust 6 per cent annually.

To reverse this trend Canada will have to reaffirm its leadership role, and clarify the regulations governing aquaculture development. This will not only lead to a growing industry it will lead to a responsible and sustainable industry that we can all benefit from. This is best done through a new federal Aquaculture Act that would enshrine best farming practices, openness and transparency in law.

A new act would define the future of aquaculture in Canada, remove unnecessary jurisdictional overlap and duplication, and create a responsible and sustainable regime that would allow for growth while at the same time protecting the environment. It would affirm Canada as a leader in responsible aquaculture management. It would expand opportunities for First Nations and rural communities.

The economic benefits of such a regime would be significant. Today, aquaculture in Canada generates over $2 billion in economic activity, over $1 billion in GDP, and employs over 14,500 nationwide.

According to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ own estimate, with a comprehensive regulatory regime in place, “Canadian aquaculture output could increase by approximately 8 per cent to approximately 214,000 tonnes within 5 years, generating farm-gate revenues of approximately $1.1 billion.”

It would be a significant start towards a healthy, vibrant and sustainable aquaculture future.

If you frequent a major supermarket in Canada today, and like seafood, chances are you have already had a taste of the health and nutrition benefits of modern aquaculture. As a country we already produce some of the finest farmed salmon, trout, oysters, scallops, and mussels. Not only that, Canada enjoys high value jobs and rural opportunities from the sector.

If we want to continue to supply our own home-grown markets and grow new opportunities the time has come to reaffirm our leadership and define aquaculture in Canada for the future.

RUTH SALMON is the executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance.