Brent Island, one of two farms Cermaq Canada operated in the Discovery Islands.

Focus on science and regulation, Canada’s fish farmers tell DFO

Development and promotion of industry ‘should be moved to avoid conflict of interest claims’


Canadian fish farmers have suggested that aquaculture development and promotional activities by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) should be hived off to better support the reputation of the government department’s science and regulation.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Association (CAIA) believes development and promotion would be better given to the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food (AAFC).

The recommendation to MPs comes in the wake of the decision in December 2020 by the then fisheries minister, Bernadette Jordan, to close 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, British Columbia, despite advice from her own department’s scientists that the farms did not pose a threat to wild fish.

Her successor as fisheries minister, Joyce Murray, has questioned some of the DFO’s science, and some anti-salmon farming activists have accused government scientists of being in the pocket of the salmon industry.

Hundreds of jobs lost

Stressing the importance of science-based decisions in a submission to the Canadian parliament’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, the CAIA said: “The 2020 Ministerial decision to close salmon farms in BC’s Discovery Islands provides a stark example of how damaging it is when Ministerial decisions fail to reflect sound scientific advice.

“In April 2022, the federal court overturned the December 2020 decision by the Minister, finding that due process had not been followed by the Minister, including failure to consider science advice provided to the Minister.

“Tragically, in the interim between the Minister’s decision and the federal court decision, millions of healthy fish had to be culled, hundreds of people lost their jobs during an already difficult and stressful period of time, BC’s top agri-food export was reduced while supply chains were stressed, and there was a national chill on investment that included the cancellation or delay of equipment and technology that would improve production and environmental performance.”

Trust undermined

The CAIA added that public trust in the agri-food system and regulators is of paramount importance for the future of seafood production and trust in science and the regulator is undermined “when Ministers of the Crown and MPs broadly condemn and criticise government science evaluation processes, often in response to extreme activist voices, without proposing reasonable and specific ideas for improvement”.

The aquaculture organisation said one criticism directed at DFO regarding its management of aquaculture is that a “mixed mandate” at DFO between science/regulation and promotion of the aquaculture sector is a conflict that should be addressed.

Objectivity of science

“We believe that as aquaculture is a farming sector, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is structured to support the Canadian farming sector’s development, that these responsibilities should move to AAFC,” said the CAIA. “This will assist in re-building greater public trust in objectivity of the science and regulatory capacity at DFO and address any perceived conflicts of interest.

“For aquaculture, DFO should focus on science and regulation, while promotional and sector development responsibilities should move to AAFC.”

The CAIA said it believed both the aquaculture industry and industry critics would support such a move.

Read the CAIA’s full submission here.