Chapter VI: Studying Canadian Aquaculture Policy: Issues, Gaps and Directions” Jeremy Rayner

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Chapter VI: "Studying Canadian Aquaculture Policy: Issues, Gaps and Directions” - Jeremy Rayner (Malaspina) and Michael Howlett (SFU)


After almost a century of benign neglect, Canadian aquaculture policy emerged in its modern form after 1984, when the federal government led a complex intergovernmental process of policy renewal. After an initial period in which the foundations for the new policy were laid through intergovernmental agreements, both the federal and provincial governments adopted numerous policies aimed at the promotion of the aquaculture industry. This paper assesses these developments and trends in Canadian aquaculture policy against the emerging issues affecting the sector in the near to medium term.

1. Introduction1

Aquaculture in Canada is a small but rapidly-growing resource sector. It is composed of two basic industries, the shellfish and finfish sectors, which use very different techniques to produce different species of marine animals. Shellfish volumes and values remain much smaller than their finfish equivalents at present, with finfish output accounting for about 75% of total volume and 88% of value of total Canadian production. The Canadian finfish industry, up until now based largely on Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) has enjoyed phenomenal growth in output over the last two decades. Output in 2001 alone showed a 25% increase over 2000 levels, reaching 107,700 tonnes. Canadian shellfish production grew by 17% over the same period to 33,900 tonnes. he value of Canadian finfish output, which was over $684m in 2001, is already beginning to level off as the weakness of the US economy combines with overproduction and fierce competition between the two major producing countries, Chile and Norway, to drive down world prices. Shellfish values, where the species mix is also more diverse, have held up rather better, increasing interest in the sector. 2

The very rapid growth rates over the last decade are, of course, not unique to Canada. The declines in many significant capture fisheries around the world combined with increasing world demand for seafood products has led to concerns about food security. Aquaculture has been widely promoted by governments and international agencies such as the FAO as an essential tool to address the security issue. World farmed salmon production volumes surpassed the wild fishery in 1997 and the development of new farmed species such as cod and tuna is well advanced. Rosy forecasts are common. Former federal fisheries minister Herb Dhaliwal has predicted a Canadian industry worth $2bn by the end of the decade.3 A widely quoted report by Coopers Lybrand for the federal Western Economic Diversification (WED) program has suggested that the value of British Columbia shellfish production alone could climb from $12 million to $100 million between 1997 and 2006.4 The possibility of creating thousands of new jobs in coastal communities hard hit by declines in other resource sectors has helped persuade governments like that of British Columbia to lift moratoria on new shellfish and finfish farm tenures and launch policies such as the Shellfish Development Initiative aimed at doubling areas under tenure over the next decade.

Yet, in spite of the optimism and the apparent convergence of government policy on promoting aquaculture development, progress remains limited in many parts of Canada. In spite of efforts to diversify into new species and new locations, the finfish industry remains dominated by the production of Atlantic salmon in a restricted number of locations in BC and New Brunswick. In addition to the weakness of international farmed salmon prices and the shaky financial state of some of the world’s largest companies with operations in Canada, Canadian producers now face significant scrutiny by a coalition of traditional fishers, First Nations and environmentalists concerned about the impacts of the industry on the marine environment and on surviving stocks of wild fish. Such concerns have been raised at every stage of the production process, from the use of wild fish stocks to make feed pellets, through the impact of wastes, parasites and diseases on local wild stocks, to the human health implications of therapeutant residues and colourants in the final product. The environmental coalition has adopted tactics familiar from other resource areas, alleging collusion between industry and government to suppress unpleasant facts about the impacts of finfish aquaculture and targeting US consumers with a slick “Farmed and Dangerous” campaign that has encouraged restaurant-goers to demand wild salmon and pressured some large US retailers to label farmed salmon as artificially coloured. 5

While the shellfish industry has, until recently, enjoyed rather less intense scrutiny from environmentalists, it has experienced plenty of problems of its own. In BC, for example, half way through the SDI the value of farmed shellfish has barely reached a quarter of the way towards the ten-year target. Problems of intergovernmental coordination, premature tenure expansion announcements without adequate consultation of local communities, uncertainty surrounding unresolved First Nations’ claims and their impact on the foreshore and coastal waters, declining water quality in traditional growing areas, lack of processing facilities and distribution networks for expanded production, and a host of other factors have surfaced. In PEI, perhaps the most successful example of shellfish industry expansion in Canada, weakening mussel prices, allegations of dumping in US markets, and increasing conflicts with other users have marked the expansion of the industry. A high profile action in the Federal Court by the Sierra Club opposing a 1400 acre mussel aquaculture development by a PEI company near the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia suggests the difficulty of expanding operations beyond the Island and is indicative that shellfish aquaculture, widely promoted as a “green” industry, is now on the environmentalists’ radar screen. In BC and elsewhere shellfish aquaculture development now faces the same kind of serious legitimation problems which have bedeviled the finfish sector, threatening not only the future industry, but those operations already established.6

This record raises many issues related to how policy-making in this sector has been designed and the principles followed by policy-makers in their activities. As shall be argued below, policy-makers have generally ignored or failed to act in accordance with recent thinking on policy design and governance and instead have carried forward a policy process typical of an earlier era of staples resource development. Whereas in early periods such development was often accepted as an end-in-itself by local populations who were generally supportive of its expansion, in the modern era more sophisticated policy-making is required which not only focuses on the use of policy instruments to promote industrial activity, but also those required to legitimate the process.7 Rather than create a system of ‘smart regulation’ for the post-staples era, as the Australian political scientist Neil Gunningham has termed it,8 Canadian policy-makers have until recently pursued a single-minded focus on industrial promotion, while leaving existing weak procedural instruments – notably industry-based advisory panels – in place. Although policy-makers are currently responding to the emerging crises in the sector with a plethora of consultations and other procedural devices, the requisite co-ordination is lacking and these ill-considered consultations themselves are now engendering additional problems in the sector.9

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