Nova Scotia

Province beefs up aquaculture regulations

The province’s fisheries and aquaculture minister says amended regulations will make it easier to trace fish that escape from fish farms.

Increased rules around strength of fish pens, tracking escaped fish

Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell is in Norway for an industry technology trade show. (CBC)

The province's fisheries and aquaculture minister says amended regulations will make it easier to trace fish that escape from fish farms and more difficult for them to escape in the first place.

Cabinet signed off on the changes to the aquaculture management regulations, bringing them into effect, earlier this week.

The minister, Keith Colwell, said the changes come after his department received the results of a report by a committee looking at the issue of fish containment.

"Now if a fish escapes, once this is all in place, we can track the fish right back to the pen [from which] it escapes," he said in an interview.

Tracking options including testing DNA or tagging fish, he said.

Colwell said it's important because of the concern escapes pose for wild fish and the sport fishing industry, and the potential of cross-breeding.

"It's just to ensure also if there's an escape we can track it back to the person that's responsible and hold them accountable for any kind of damages, or anything."

'High level of security'

Other changes include tighter regulations regarding the strength of fish pens, allowing them to better withstand bad weather.

The minister said his department is also requiring operators to have their farm management plans kept in the province and altering the ocean bottom assessment requirements for shellfish-based aquaculture projects. Until now, they to go through the same assessment used for finfish operations.

Colwell said it was an unnecessary regulatory burden for shellfish operations.

"The shellfish, of course, and the oysters, in particular, clean the water up," he said. "So they're really no environmental risk at all. So that's really making it easier for the shellfish operators while maintaining the high level of security around the whole thing."

A fish pen in Liverpool, N.S. (CBC)

The minister said one of the goals of the changes is to add credibility to the government's approach on an industry that is often the source of controversy and routinely faces community opposition.

Minister heads to Norway

The changes come as Colwell and a small group of municipal officials from the districts of Lunenburg, Chester and Guysborough travel to Norway to attend an aquaculture technology trade show.

They'll also travel to rural parts of the country to see what effects the industry has had on those communities. It will give them a sense of what could be possible here.

Colwell said Norway is the source of many of the industry's best practices, including on tracing fish and community liaison work. It's also the home of industry giant Cermaq, which has operations in British Columbia and earlier this year announced it's evaluating the possibility of coming to Nova Scotia, too.

A spokesperson for Cermaq Canada said it remains in the evaluation process, with plans for community engagement undetermined. But Colwell is bullish on the likelihood of Cermaq Canada coming east and what it might mean for an industry the government is hoping can grow.

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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