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May 1, 2013 – 15:57 — SCT and news sources

The province says it is protecting coastal communities by introducing an “aquaculture framework”, according to a news release Wednesday.

Includes consultation
Fisheries and Aquaculture minister Sterling Belliveau announced a government plan to develop a new regulatory framework for the aquaculture industry, including consultations with Nova Scotians. “People who live in coastal communities want good jobs, but not at any cost,” said Mr. Belliveau. “This government recognizes that the aquaculture industry is an important part of rural communities. By developing strong regulations and enforcement we will help the industry grow in a way that balances economic development and environmental protection.”

Led by legal experts
The work will be led by Dalhousie University law professors and environmental law experts Meinhard Doelle and William Lahey. They will be advised by an advisory committee chosen to represent stakeholders and community interests including the Mi’kmaq, Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Salmon Association, Nova Scotia Fisheries Sector Council, Ecology Action Centre and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities.

Coastal community protection
The “framework” does not protect coastal communities, according to some residents there. “A regulatory framework is just more empty words, says Gloria Gilbert, one of several advocates from six coastal
communities affected by salmon and trout aquaculture who have not opposed shellfish farming or land-based fish farming, but who have vociferously challenged the government’s approvals of open-pen sea cage
farms. She notes that “the famous Environmental Monitoring Program has a “Monitoring Framework” dating from 2007 or 2008, which has not led to any changes in fish farm impacts.” Measurable, verifiable results have worsened, she adds.
One of the big problems, according to Gilbert, is the confusion over who is responsible, citing situations in which DFO “ducks” their responsibility under the federal Fisheries Act to assess pollution from fish farms, by telling concerned citizens that the province issued the lease.
To the question of whether the announced Framework lends any expection that things will improve on fish farms, Gilbert says, simply “No!”
She expects that the new scheme will continue what she calls “an ongoing game of “Pig in the Middle”, with fishermen being the ‘pigs'”.

Science advisory committee to be added
“We look forward to working with the advisory committee, key stakeholders, scientific experts, and members of the public to develop a regulatory framework for aquaculture that best serves the long-term social, environmental and economic interests of the province,” said Mr. Doelle.

Mr. Doelle and Mr. Lahey, assisted by the advisory committee and a scientific advisory committee to be struck later, will consider a full range of impacts, benefits and risks that should be addressed through regulation.

The release says they will use a multi-phased process of public and stakeholder consultation, the first phase of which will begin this summer.

Written regulations needed for industry expansion
Bruce Hancock, executive director of the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, said. “We believe that clearly written regulations are an important part of sustainable expansion of aquaculture in Nova Scotia and will help build public confidence in our industry.”

Sindy Keeler, spokesperson for Jordan Bay/Shelburne County has advocated for more than two years for the government to consider available science in its decisions on aquaculture policy.

Years of pollution ignored?
“The NDP government has never shown any willingness to enforce the regulations that already exist,” she told SCT. “They have ignored years of pollution data and disease outbreaks. They have been completely silent on the conviction of Cooke Aquaculture for illegal pesticide use.”

Regulations have never protected communities, she adds, saying that regulations have had no effect on the practices of open pen aquaculture companies. “Fishing communities have been living with disease, escaped fish, pollution and pesticides for years. If the government really wanted to do something about the effects of open net pen aquaculture, they would have done so by now.”

It is anticipated the department will receive recommendations to develop regulations by the end of 2014.

Current regulations fail to protect environment
“From our vantage point, aquaculture regulations are failing to protect Nova Scotian communities and the environment and thus we welcome a comprehensive review of the regulatory system and options going forward,” said Ecology Action Centre policy director Mark Butler. “There are sustainable opportunities in aquaculture, but they must not come at the expense of the ecosystem or other marine industries.”

The development of regulations for the aquaculture industry was part of the action plan from the province’s first aquaculture strategy, released in May 2012. The aquaculture industry generates about $50 million annually.

“Investment in aquaculture can provide meaningful work that will sustain rural communities and maintain their quality of life,” said Belliveau.

Advisory committee
The seven members of the advisory committee are: Chief Terry Paul, Membertou, Chief of the Membertou First Nation; Bruce Hancock, Halifax, executive director, Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia;  Lisa Fitzgerald, Yarmouth, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fisheries Sector Council; Karen Traversy, Clam Bay, Halifax Regional Municipality, Coastal Coalition of Nova Scotia; Carl Purcell, Dartmouth, past president, Nova Scotia Salmon Association; Mark Butler, Halifax, policy director, Ecology Action Centre. A representative of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities will be named soon.

The development of aquaculture in Nova Scotia has been frought with contention in recent years, with 141 community groups and other organizations signing an appeal to the government for a moratorium in open pen aquaculture leases until more adequate science can be developed as to potential consequenses of the industrial farm sites in bays and harbours in the province.

Aquaculture operations in Shelburne, Jordan Bay, St. Mary’s Bay, Port Mouton Bay and the Eastern Shore have met with strong opposition by some community groups.