bc-091023-salmon-farm

Farmed Atlantic salmon is raised in net pens like these along B.C.'s West Coast. As of Dec. 18, the West Coast fish farming industry will be overseen by the federal government. ((CBC))

B.C. has handed over responsibility for regulating the West Coast fish farming industry to the federal government.

Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea and B.C. Agriculture Minister Ben Stewart announced Friday morning at the Vancouver Aquarium that they have signed a memorandum of understanding. 

The transfer of oversight will officially occur Dec. 18.

Shea said the DFO is committing more than $8 million to hiring 55 new staff and bringing in stronger enforcement and environmental controls.

"As we step into this new role, our government will not simply be regulating the aquaculture industry. Rather, we will be working to manage and foster its sustainable development," she said.

"The new regulations and conditions of licence will mean stronger environmental controls as well as increased monitoring and enforcement."

Conflict of interest concerns

The transfer was welcomed by Mary Ellen Walling, the executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association. She said the new regulations will help streamline management of the industry and allow operators to look at other business opportunities.

"Our industry has developed into the successful and sustainable business that it is in part due to the hard work of our provincial regulators," said Walling. "We look forward to continuing that forward motion with our new federal colleagues."

But environmentalists say the ministry is in a conflict of interest, because it is looking after the environment and the economic well being of an industry that critics say is damaging to wild fish populations.

The transfer of responsibility follows a 2009 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that the federal government, not the province, should regulate fish farms because it has constitutional powers over the ocean.

The legal action was launched by biologist Alexandra Morton, a longtime opponent of open-net aquaculture.