Nova Scotia

Auditor General's aquaculture recommendations favoured by industry

Fish farming in Nova Scotia needs better regulations to protect the environment and to allow the government to monitor its operations.

Province's Auditor General wants better monitoring of fish farming, licensing

Susanna Fuller, marine conservation co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, says the Nova Scotia Auditor General's recommendations are needed for the aquaculture industry. (CBC)

The aquaculture industry appeared to embrace the provincial Auditor General's recommendations that Nova Scotia beef up its licensing and monitoring activities of fish farming.

Michael Pickup noted in his report released Wednesday that a lack of staff, resources and information is preventing the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department from properly managing and monitoring the aquaculture industry.

"The relocation of  most of the Aquaculture Division and and resulting loss of staff likely contributed to the backlog and delay in processing aquaculture site renewal applications," it also noted.

That has kept much of the industry from growing for the past two years, the executive director of the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia said Wednesday.

"Over the past two years, we have been on hold as an industry," Tom Smith said.

Better codes of practice

Aquaculture contributes $50-$60 million to the province's economy annually. Smith said that figure could be $300-$400 million in a clear and effective regulatory environment.

"It is our position that the more active discussion about aquaculture will help us grow."

In the meantime, the industry has been developing better codes of practice, he said.

"Codes of practice for better management for responsible sea farming, Those codes of practice deal with everything from fish cage containment to environmental monitoring. They deal with fish engagement processes that we need to improve."

The Ecology Action Centre said the AG's report confirmed what communities have been saying about the way aquaculture operates in the province.

"The big one, on enforcement, for us is the Auditor General found limited enforcement of environmental requirements —  exactly what communities have been saying over time. Environmental monitoring and auditing procedures lack clarity and detail," said Susanna Fuller, marine conservation co-ordinator for the centre.

Communities frustrated

Gaps in complaint recording and investigative processes are also frustrating for communities, she said.

The shocker for her was the department's lack of ability to monitor disease outbreaks in fish farming.

"I was really surprised to read this. No provincial regulatory requirement for disease survelliance? The department may not know when there has been a disease outbreak and I think that is significant."

Fuller said while there is room for improvement, she isn't sure that is going to happen.

She believes funding and manpower is needed to properly regulate open-pen fish farming and provide adequate data bases.

"I did not see in the last provincial budget the real bump up that is probably needed to regulate the open-pen industry."