Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is working with the aquaculture industry to expand fish farms on the West and East coasts and the Great Lakes. In March 2010, the David Suzuki Foundation and 400 people from all walks of life attended a public meeting held by DFO in Campbell River to consult West Coast residents about the plans. This was the public's chance to offer input. A government official at the meeting brushed off concerns I raised, but now it appears my warnings were correct.
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I pointed out that changes in the works to the federal Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and new policies being considered by DFO, meant activities by the industry would take place without sufficient government oversight.
New fish farm applications and major amendments to existing farms had to undergo a fairly rigorous environmental assessment under the CEAA, which also allowed for public input. Members of the public could ask for, and comment on, materials pertaining to the proposed sites.
At the meeting, I warned that pending changes to the law meant there would no longer be a requirement for new fish farms to undergo environmental assessments and, therefore, no more opportunity for public input.
A senior government official at the meeting promised that would never happen, but it has. Aquaculture expansion is underway in British Columbia with applications and approvals pending to significantly amend the size of farms at 10 sites and applications for two new farms at Hope Island just north of Port Hardy. And there is more to come.
As we recently found out, new farms and applications to change existing farms on British Columbia's coastline—or anywhere else in Canada, for that matter—will no longer have to undergo federal environmental impact assessments. And they won't undergo a provincial environmental assessment either. Material that was publicly available under the former CEAA assessment process is no longer available to the public through government channels.
With all that we know about the negative impacts of fish farming on wild fish, in some cases driving wild stocks to near extinction or collapsing runs in areas with fish farms, one would think that any expansion of this industry would take place under the strictest scrutiny of government regulators and scientists. Instead, government is working with industry to reduce red tape, speed up the expansion process and silence aquaculture industry critics—like me—by removing pretty much all opportunity for public oversight of this controversial industry.
If you care about the fate of wild salmon, contact your provincial and federal government representatives. Tell them it's not okay to gamble with the survival of wild salmon and that the public should have a say on fish farms in their communities.