New rules proposed for the aquaculture industry will improve the environmental performance of salmon farmers, says the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers' Association.
"What this is actually, we believe, going to do is strengthen the environmental protection measures." said Pamela Parker, executive director of the association that represents companies like Cooke Aquaculture and Northern Harvest Sea Farms.
Parks says regulations would require companies to report to government on pesticide use and ensure federal oversight of the industry.
Parker says that the Fisheries Act, which prohibits depositing toxins or waste in the marine environment, is not suited to fish farming.
"It was never intended to manage a food production industry like aquaculture."
Parker says the result is a cumbersome mix of provincial and federal rules with no clear standard across the country.
"What this [new] regulation is trying to do is clearly articulate what is in the federal baliwick and what is in the provincial."
In its analysis of the proposed regulations, officials in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans agree "the current regime can be cumbersome for aquaculture operators and confusing for Canadians."
The document also states, "The aquaculture industry and government agencies are supportive of the overall direction of the proposed Regulations," which would give companies and regulators "certainty in the requirements associated with the deposit of fish health treatment products."
It's estimated by DFO the aquaculture industry in Canada is worth approximately $1 billion annually.
Salmon farming in places like the Bay of Fundy is intensive, leaving fish prone to disease and parasite infestations.
In a 2013 paper submitted to a scientific panel at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, now retired researcher Les Burridge states in places like southwest New Brunswick, where cage sites my be within 500-metres of each other, sea lice may cause "massive infection problems" for the industry.
The parasites attach themselves to salmon, causing lesions and stress that may kill the fish. The first sea lice infestation in southwest New Brunswick occurred in 1994, with subsequent outbreaks in 2009 and 2010.
Burridge, who signed an open letter opposing the new regulations, cites research stating that control of sea-lice requires "good husbandry and effective anti-parasitic chemicals."
According to another paper co-authored by Burridge and presented to the same scientific panel in March 2014, a feed additive called Slice and another called Calcide are the only products fully registered by Health Canada for use against sea lice.
Slice was widely used until the parasites built up a resistance during the infestation of 2009. At that time, Health Canada allowed the aquaculture industry to use three additional chemicals on an emergency basis, Salmosan, Paramove 50 and Alphamax, although permission to use Alphamax, was later withdrawn after objections from Environment Canada.
Currently Salmosan and Paramove 50 are used to kill sea lice at New Brunswick aquaculture sites. Both have received emergency registration from Health Canada according to Burridge.
The new regulations would allow aquaculture companies to administer fully registered products with a prescription from a veterinarian. Companies would have to consider alternatives before adding chemicals to the water.
A broad coalition of fishermen, business people, and environmentalists have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ask that the new regulations not be implemented. A main concern is the effect pesticides have on other species, like lobster.
The chemicals used currently and in the past have different degrees of toxicity in the environment. For example, Paramove50, essentially hydrogen peroxide, breaks down into oxygen and water when it's released. Researchers consider this to be a "relatively low risk as a sea lice treatment."
The other currently used treatment, Salmosan, is known to have side-effects on lobster and molluscs, but is not as toxic as other treatments.
Pamela Parker says Canadians can be confident about the use of Salmosan and hydrogen peroxide.
"Salmosan and hydrogen peroxide pose little to no risk to either the marine environment of the fisheries."
A larger concern for opponents is the potential use of pyrethroid chemicals including Alphamax and Excis. Neither of these products are currently permitted in Canadian waters, but are "registered or approved for use in a number of salmon producing nations," according to DFO's 2014 report on sea lice treatments.
Alphamax and Excis are pyrethroid chemicals which interfere with an organism's nervous system, causing paralysis and death. They are effective at treating sea-lice, but can have lethal effects on other species at low concentrations.
Cypermethrin, which is the active ingredient in Excis, was responsible for lobster kills in 2009 and 2010 in the Bay of Fundy when it was illegally used by a subsidiary of Cooke Aquaculture.
Parker says the future use of these chemicals will depend on a thorough review by Health Canada.
"All of these products that we test or look at have already been used in Norway or the United Kingdom for over a decade."
Fisheries and Oceans Canada has not made a final decision on whether to implement the new Aquaculture Activities Regulations. In a tweet, department officials say comments received by the department during consultations are still being reviewed.