That, in the opinion of this House, the government should undertake a study of the issues posed by the fish-farming industry, with particular regard to ecosystem health.
Mr. Speaker, members may want to know what I mean by a study. Either an independent scientific panel or a House of Commons standing committee or subcommittee should investigate and examine this issue so long as the study is conducted at arm's length from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and so long as it is comprehensive.
Members may also want to know what is meant by ecosystem health. What I mean is aquaculture's impact on water quality, other species such as marine species and birds, and the genetic integrity of the wild salmon stock.
The motion also focuses on the environmental risks posed by fish farming. A comprehensive study would also consider the impact of this industry on aboriginal and coastal communities.
In explaining to the House why a study of the environmental impacts of this industry is necessary, I will begin with a brief description of the industry itself. I will then describe the level of public concern with the impact of that industry, the federal government's involvement in promoting and regulating the industry, and finally a brief outline of the evidence of the damage caused by aquaculture.
By this I hope to demonstrate that the environmental impacts of fish farming in Canada is a significant issue of national concern. More important, this is an issue where there is an urgent need to provide a forum for Canadians to express their views and for an independent comprehensive study of its environmental impacts. This is the intent of the motion before us today.
The major form of fish farming in Canada is salmon farming which currently accounts for 64% of total aquaculture production in Canada. Salmon are raised initially in freshwater hatcheries and at the juvenile stage transferred to open net pens in marine coastal waters to complete their growth. It is while in these net pens that possible interaction with wild salmon and their habitat occur and where escapes of farmed salmon take place.
Canada is the world's fourth largest producer of farmed salmon. British Columbia and New Brunswick produce almost all of the farmed salmon in Canada. While fish farming takes place mostly on the east and west coasts, it is an issue of significance to all Canadians since this fish ultimately ends up on our dinner table.
In fact, a recent pilot study conducted by a British researcher found that farmed salmon had higher levels of toxins such as PCBs and pesticides than wild salmon. Therefore this is an issue that should concern us all.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans manages and regulates the aquaculture industry. Just last December the report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons contained a chapter entitled “Fisheries and Oceans: The Effects of Salmon Farming in British Columbia on the Management of Wild Salmon Stocks”. It is disturbing to find that the first main point of the auditor general's report is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not fully meeting its legislative obligations under the Fisheries Act to protect wild Pacific salmon stock and habitat from the effects of salmon farming.
The auditor general found that the department is not enforcing the Fisheries Act with respect to salmon farming operations, that there are shortfalls in the research and monitoring to assess the effects of salmon farming operations, and that the department has not put in place a formal plan for managing risks and for assessing the environmental effects of new fish farm sites.
According to the auditor general, a major constraint to enforcing the habitat provision of the Fisheries Act is the lack of scientific information. Hence, that is the importance of a comprehensive study as proposed in this motion.
Historically the federal government has provided substantial funds to support and promote aquaculture in the form of technical support, engineering assistance, moneys through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency in the form of direct grants to fish farms, processing plants expansions, interest free loans, training programs through Human Resources Development, et cetera.
In August of last year the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced $75 million in support of the aquaculture industries. Such extensive government support calls for an indepth analysis of the benefits and the costs of this industry.
The aquaculture industry has been one of the most rapidly growing industries in Canada and it is now time it came under public scrutiny. Therefore, I believe a thorough study by the government is the appropriate procedure to deal with this matter.
We must note that there are approximately 17 federal departments and agencies with responsibilities relating to the aquaculture sector. It is evident many aspects of environmental health have fallen through the cracks of the current patchwork of regulations.
We tried to close one of those gaps in 1998 when the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development conducted its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The issue at the time was to clarify the authority of the Minister of the Environment to protect fish habitats from deleterious substances. Apparently the Department of Fisheries and Oceans still fails to enforce the fish habitat provisions of the Fisheries Act when it comes to aquaculture.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in February and March of last year had a few meetings to study aquaculture. No report was issued but the records of those meetings reveal how anxious many Canadians and members of parliament are to see this industry adequately regulated.
In June 1999 the commissioner of aquaculture instigated a legislative review of all acts and regulations applying to the aquaculture industry with two perhaps conflicting mandates to this review. One was to undertake a comprehensive review of all federal legislation and regulations to identify and remove, where appropriate, constraints to aquaculture development. The other was to develop and implement a responsive and effective regulatory and policy framework to ensure aquaculture is conducted in an environmentally sustainable manner.
The review is now completed but it is not yet published. In the meantime the auditor general has warned that in responding to the review the department ought to give appropriate consideration to environmental issues in accordance to its mandate.
It is evident that the department is committed to expanding this industry despite growing evidence of its damages and that a double mandate as both regulator and promoter of the industry is inappropriate given the statutory mandate to protect fish habitats. I would go one step further and submit that the promotion and development side of the aquaculture industry, as with any other industry, should be left to the Department of Industry.
The debate of this motion is very timely as some members may have seen last week's excellent documentary on salmon farming on The Nature of Things by Dr. David Suzuki. The documentary presented a wealth of scientific research and reports on the environmental impacts of aquaculture, many of which I will make reference to.
For instance, Environment Canada recently released a study on the dispersion and the toxicity of pesticides used to treat sea lice on salmon in net pen enclosures. The study outlined the negative impact of those pesticides on water quality and other marine organisms. Fish farming also generates the release of cage wastes, feces, nutrients from the fish feed, antibiotics and other veterinary drugs, pesticides, antifoulants and other chemicals.
These wastes are deposited and accumulated on the sea floor. This accumulation can actually lead to the area being too rich in nutrients, triggering algae blooms which are toxic to fish. The composition of the accumulated waste can also lead to the release of noxious gases like ammonia and methane. This affects animals like crustaceans and arthropods that live in the sediment. It is worth noting the area under the net pens is actually often referred to as the dead zone.
Aquaculturists manage feeding regimes, temperature, light levels and genetic selection of fish. Atlantic salmon raised in fish farms frequently suffer from the salmon anaemia virus, a disease that spreads rapidly due to the conditions under which these fish are raised. What is even worse is that there are reported cases of the disease spreading to our already endangered wild stock of salmon. Fish in fish farms suffer from a wide range of bacterial, viral and parasitological diseases and these epidemics are controlled by extensive use of antibiotics and pesticides. These health problems are associated with ever more intensive production, the objective being to always bring the fish to market in the shortest possible time.
A recent scientific study entitled “Potential Genetic Interaction Between Wild and Farm Salmon of the Same Species” concluded that the large influx of genes from farm fish into wild gene pools could cause severe declines in the wild fish stock. Already escaped farm fish have been reported in streams and rivers of British Columbia and New Brunswick. The situation will likely get worse as the industry continues to grow unchecked. Escaped fish can spread disease, compete with wild salmon for food and habitat and interbreed with the wild stock.
Wild salmon fish stocks are already declining due to loss of habitat and salmon farming puts an additional stress on this precious resource.
Wild salmon and fish farms can coexist. There is a possibility for a sustainable aquaculture industry, no doubt. However, we are clearly not on that path at the moment. We must put the brakes on the promotion and funding of the status quo and conduct an comprehensive study identifying the environmental effects before considering further expansion of the industry. Only then will we have accurate directions on how to put the existing fish farms on a sustainable path and whether and under which conditions the industry can be allowed to expand.
This improvement will likely require fulfilment of the government's statutory duty to protect the wild salmon stocks, changes in fish farm techniques, reductions, strict control and containment of pesticides, drugs, feed and the fish themselves. A greater regulatory presence in the aquaculture industry would prevent long term negative impacts on the environment and thus be beneficial to the long term economic health of this industry.
What is also at stake here are the stocks of wild salmon. Those great big fish, gifted travellers, covering immense distances to return to their native river, those accomplished swimmers, brave waterfalls, strong currents, grizzly bears and other obstacles in their way. Enduring symbols of nature's strength and determination and yet, now serving as a warning to us all of the fragility of the great Canadian wilderness, of how our once plentiful resources, the wild salmon stocks, can quickly be decimated when exploited for profits.
In conclusion, there is a serious problem that warrants this motion: the extensive influx of the aquaculture industry on the environment; the inadequacy of the current regulatory framework; and the negative publicity the industry will receive if the situation is not corrected. This issue is of significant concern to Canadians and it must and can only be addressed by a comprehensive parliamentary study, as suggested in this motion.
I look forward to the participation and input of my colleagues.