“They put their own interests well above their neighbours”

Fundy Baykeeper, Environment Commissioner say governments need to up their game on aquaculture oversight

Election 2018: Ask candidates in your riding...

Will you commit to cracking down on pesticide use that threatens wild fish and critical fisheries, such as lobster and scallop, in the Bay of Fundy?

Just weeks after Canada’s top environmental watchdog called for big improvements to government regulation and enforcement of aquaculture companies, a court case involving illegal pesticide use at a New Brunswick fish farm brought her concerns straight to home.

In April, Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, released a damning report blasting government for failing to manage the risks associated with salmon aquaculture in Canada, and particularly in Atlantic Canada.

Then, just three weeks later, a court case put a local spotlight on Gelfand’s findings, as New Brunswick-based Northern Harvest Sea Farms pled guilty in provincial court to the illegal use of pesticides in an effort to stop a sea lice outbreak at one of its Grand Manan fish farms last summer.

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“I wish I was surprised,” our Fundy Baykeeper, Matt Abbott, told reporters when asked about the case. “But this case, like the others before it in New Brunswick, demonstrate that far too often, aquaculture companies put their own interests well above their neighbours.

“It reinforces our Environment Commissioner’s findings that the fish farm industry in Atlantic Canada is severely lacking effective regulation and enforcement.”

In mid May, Northern Harvest Sea Farms was fined $12,000 for violating New Brunswick’s Pesticides Control Act — a sum frustrated fishers in the region, some of whose lobster catch was put at risk by the pesticide use, called “a slap on the wrist” and “the cost of doing business.”

It’s the second time in recent years that a New Brunswick aquaculture company admitted to deliberately using an illegal pesticide in the Bay of Fundy. Kelly Cove Salmon, a subsidiary of Cooke Aquaculture, which operates the majority of the roughly 100 open net-pen fish farm sites in the Bay of Fundy, was charged under the Fisheries Act in 2011 for the illegal use of cypermethrin that killed hundreds of lobsters in nearby traps and holding areas. The company was required to pay $500,000 in fines and payments, the largest penalty ever levied under the Fisheries Act in New Brunswick and among the largest ever levied in Canada.

“It makes me seriously worried,” Gelfand said of the “significant deficiencies” her audit revealed around oversight and enforcement in Atlantic Canada.

Her key findings concluded that: there is a clear lack of enforcement of regulations in Atlantic Canada, where no new enforcement officers have been hired since 2015; the Department of Fisheries and Oceans isn’t doing enough to monitor diseases or understand the effect salmon farming has on the health of wid fish; the department isn’t doing enough to confirm the accuracy of drug and pesticide reports submitted by aquaculture companies; and there is a clear lack of national standards for nets and anchoring equipment, something critically important in Atlantic Canada where escapes of farmed salmon and interbreeding with declining wild salmon populations happens more frequently.

“I suggest that the department is at risk of being seen to be promoting aquaculture over the protection of wild fish,” Gelfand said.

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