Auditor general’s office urges DFO to get going with fish farm assessment

The federal government has not adequately managed risks associated with salmon farming, putting wild species in danger, says Canada’s environment commissioner.

Salmon aquaculture is a $1-billion industry in Canada, which is the fourth largest producer of farmed salmon in the world.

A new report produced by Julie Gelfand, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, found that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has no national standard for nets and other equipment to prevent escapes, nor has it set limits on the amount of drugs and pesticides fish farms can use to treat diseases.

Gelfand’s office found the department had not completed risk assessments for key known diseases, was not addressing new and emerging diseases, was not adequately enforcing regulations aimed at minimizing harm to wild fish and, most importantly according to Gelfand, was not monitoring the health of wild fish.
She also said the DFO is providing more funding for research related to fish farms than funding for research to help monitor their impact.

“The department is at risk of being seen to be promoting aquaculture over the protection of wild fish,” Gelfand told reporters.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the federal body responsible for regulating aquaculture and determining where salmon farms can be located or expanded as well as their operating conditions, while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for preventing the spread of infectious diseases that can affect farmed and wild fish. In the Atlantic provinces, provincial governments are responsible for most aspects of aquaculture management, the report says.

The report notes that net pen aquaculture is popular as it is more cost and energy efficient than closed-containment systems, which have the advantage of limiting interactions with wild species.

But net pen aquaculture comes with risks to wild populations such as disease, interbreeding and pesticide contamination.

Escapes can negatively affect wild salmon stocks by interbreeding with wild salmon of the same species, which may weaken the ability of the wild salmon to avoid predators and forage for food, the report says, and escaped fish may also spread disease and compete with wild fish for food.

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