Canadian trade group proposes review of DFO, pushes to strip it of its role as promoter of aquaculture

The twin role of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) as regulator and promoter of aquaculture should change, and the agency should undergo a regular “expert review” of its progress in implementing science-based aquaculture advice in order to re-build public trust in the objectivity of its decision making.

These were among the recommendations of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) on Tuesday to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries & Oceans, which studies matters related to DFO’s role in the management of Canada’s fisheries and the safeguarding of its waters.

In British Columbia, DFO is in charge of salmon farming site locations, licensing decisions, and farming regulations, while in other Canadian provinces, the provincial governments take the lead.

The CAIA says the possibilities for conflict of interest are enormous given DFO’s dual role. It is a concern also shared by anti-salmon-farming activists.

The responsibility for promoting aquaculture should be transferred over to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), recommends the group. AAFC is structured to do the job, as the Canadian agri-food sectors are already among the most strictly regulated in Canada and rely heavily upon science to inform policies and regulation, it said.

The group also recommends an “expert review” of how DFO arrives at its decisions, specifically whether it is listening to aquaculture-science advice. When DFO needs scientific advice, it approaches a group called the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS), which is comprised of esteemed scientists and academics that are experts in aquaculture and fisheries across Canada.

Read also: Scientific advice to Canada’s aquaculture policymakers is trustworthy, scientists assure Canadian public

The CAIA recommends that DFO be regularly evaluated on whether it is making progress on implementing the recommendations of the CSAS.

It noted the case where the decision of then Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to shut down 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands in December 2020 was overturned by a federal court about a year-and-a-half later because due process had not been followed and Jordan also did not consider the science advice provided to her.

That decision had tragic consequences, said the CAIA, including the needless culling of millions of healthy salmon, hundreds of people losing their jobs, reduction of agri-food export and a freeze in investment flows into the sector.

Noting that sometimes, government ministers themselves condemn and criticize government science evaluation processes often in response to activists. Casting aspersions on the integrity of DFO’s scientists and CSAS process risks eroding trust, it said.

“If we, as Canadians, are to be confident in the services and protection that these programs provide, we must also believe in the science advice that underpins aquaculture regulations and the processes that provide that advice,” the group said.




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