Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture

In 1973, famed ocean explorer and conservationist, Jacques Cousteau, wrote “As populations mount and land grown food supplies are unable to feed the growing numbers of the hungry, man is turning more and more to the sea for his food. On land, man has slowly learned to conserve the soil lest it stop producing crops. If the bounty of the sea is not to be exhausted, man must learn to farm it as he farms the land, by sowing as well as reaping.”

Now, nearly 50 years later, mankind has developed a robust global approach to aquaculture. In fact, during these past years, global output from aquaculture grew at a rate of 9.1 percent while output from wild fish capture grew at an annual average rate of 1.2 percent. Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production sector in the world and provides about half of all the fish we eat.

In Canada, farmed seafood represents three times the value of beef in food exports. Aquaculture generates $3.1 billion of economic activity and employs over 15,000 full time workers with thousands more on a seasonal basis, mostly in rural coastal communities. Aquaculture became an economic powerhouse, and sector analysts report that eight in ten Canadians support regulated expansion of our national aquaculture industry.

Along the way, however, something happened to the promise of aquaculture in Nova Scotia. There were some missteps and some misinformation with the result that it wasn’t welcomed by all parties as a supplementary food supply. Conflict grew among sectors of the industry including regulators, existing users of coastal resources, environmental organizations and coastal communities. At the heart of the conflict were commercial scale marine-based finfish operations. These operations were seen by some as critical to rural development, while others viewed them as a threat to existing industries such as fishing and tourism.

It was in this context that the province of Nova Scotia set up an independent panel to carry out a regulatory review of aquaculture. The panel was asked to design a state-of-the-art provincial regulatory framework for the aquaculture industry in NS.

As a result, the provincial government has formed an Aquaculture Regulatory Advisory Committee, co-chaired by the the Honourable Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries & Aquaculture, and Chief Terry Paul of Membertou First Nation. The committee membership is comprised of representatives from coastal communities, First Nations, industry and municipal governments to provide advice on regulating aquaculture in Nova Scotia.

In addition, a Science Advisory Committee, chaired by Dr. David Gray of Dalhousie University, provides a forum for ongoing discussion of the science of aquaculture and includes experts from the fields of oceanography, ecology, aquatic animal health as well as finfish and shellfish aquaculture. The committee identifies relevant issues that can be addressed through regulation and policy and will give recommendations to government on scientific aspects of regulating aquaculture development.

Also, a 3-member independent Aquaculture Review Panel is tasked with decision making power on the establishment of an aquaculture site after the proponent has exercised an ‘Option’ and developed a Farm Management Plan. The Minister’s participation in this entire process ends prior to the Panel’s review, mitigating the possibility of political intervention.

The bays and coves of Chester-St. Margaret’s have been identified as offering some of the best waters for commercial aquaculture in all of Atlantic Canada. I look forward to discussions with all interested parties as we seek a balance for a regional economic driver that contributes to global food security while not degrading our coastal habitats.