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Canadian government gets failing grade in salmon farming audit

By Karen Graham     Apr 24, 2018 in World
Ottawa - A new audit from Canada's federal environment commissioner found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has not been managing the nation's fish farms very well, and has failed to enforce rules and manage the risk of infectious diseases.
The audit was one of three reports tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons by Julie Gelfand, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development.
One of the reports concluded that Environment and Climate Change Canada was not doing enough to coordinate different governments’ and departments’ efforts on conserving biodiversity, while another report said Canada is behind on meeting the standards of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that it signed onto in 2015.
"The federal government committed to implementing the 2030 agenda three years ago, but again, it is not ready to respect its international commitment," she said. "When will it be ready?" Gelfand is particularly worried that there is no implementation plan to measure, monitor and report on Canada's progress toward meeting those targets.
Sustainable Development Goals for 2030
Sustainable Development Goals for 2030
United Nations
The report on salmon farming
As for Canada's $1 billion salmon farming industry, Commissioner Gelfand said management was ineffective, at best, especially when it comes to assessing the risk that diseases among farmed fish pose to wild salmon. She also noted that Fisheries and Oceans Canada only has limited capacity to enforce its own regulations.
According to CTV News, Gelfand points out the gaps in research about the risks, saying the government is also not monitoring the impacts of the drugs used to treat diseases in salmon.
And she definitely questioned the effectiveness of the fisheries department only having $30 million in annual government spending to oversee the salmon farming industry.
“In other words… the federal government favored the economic pillar over the environmental pillar,” wrote Gelfand in a statement accompanying the audit, reports the Vancouver Sun.
Aquaculture in B.C. and western Canada
The salmon farming audit comes just a short time after Digital Journal reported that Washington State moved to phase out open-net fish farms due to an incident that saw more than 250,000 Atlantic salmon escape into Pacific waters last summer.
Right after the Washington announcement, CBC News reported that B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said that British Columbia wanted to move Atlantic salmon fish farming toward land-based production. But Donaldson said the B.C. government can't ban open-net aquaculture like the state of Washington did because they are regulated by the federal government.
Hatchery-raised salmon.
Hatchery-raised salmon.
Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
The audit noted that the federal fisheries department, and not the provincial government, does, indeed, regulate most aspects of British Columbia’s aquaculture industry - but its oversight of the industry is lacking on a number of key issues, one being the fisheries department had only completed one of 10 risk assessments of key diseases that it committed in 2015 to complete by 2020.
And, the audit noted that the department's audit of B.C. fish farms, for example, hasn’t been updated since 2006 and may not address new diseases. Gelfand also found there is no formal procedure for the fisheries department to share information with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is responsible for preventing the spread of disease.
Open-net pens
"Overall, we have found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had not set a national standard for the quality and maintenance of equipment, such as nets and anchoring systems, to reduce the risk of fish escapes," says the report.
According to the report, preventing fish escapes is important to minimize the risk of causing negative genetic effects in wild salmon. This is especially important in Atlantic Canada, where escaped farmed salmon have begun to interbreed with declining wild salmon populations.
The report also noted that the fisheries department did not publish industry statistics on disease outbreaks or drug and pesticide use in a consistent manner.
“In our view, information that is not sufficient, specific, or up to date can reduce public confidence that the department is effectively regulating the industry,” the report concludes.
More about Salmon farming, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Wild salmon, Environment, Audit