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Finfish farms licensing in British Columbia

Prior to 2010, the Government of British Columbia was responsible for the management of most aspects of the finfish industry, including:

  • licensing and regulating industry, including production, animal health and compliance and enforcement (B.C. Fisheries Act and Aquaculture Regulation)
  • tenuring the seabed (Land Act)
  • regulating waste discharge (Environmental Management Act; Finfish Aquaculture Waste Control Regulation)
  • issuing permits for pesticide use (Integrated Pest Management Act)

The federal role, at that time, focused on assessment of potential impacts of aquaculture on wild fish and fish habitat:

  • fish habitat-impact authorizations (Fisheries Act)
  • introductions and transfers permits (Fisheries Act)
  • environmental assessment screening (Canadian Environmental Assessment Act)

In  2009, a B.C. Supreme Court decision in the case of Morton vs. British Columbia (Agriculture and Lands) determined a fish farming operation was a “fishery” within the meaning of the s. 91 of The Constitution Act, 1867, which gives the Parliament of Canada exclusive legislative authority in relation to “seacoast and inland fisheries”. 

The Canada-British Columbia agreement on aquaculture management (2010) sets out the responsibilities of both governments with respect to the management and regulation of the aquaculture sector in B.C.:

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat, and proper management and control of fisheries, including aquaculture.
  • Canada is responsible for collecting data regarding the environmental performance of the industry in B.C. via its licensing activities, and its regular scientific research and monitoring programs.
  • Ministry of Agriculture is B.C.’s lead for seafood industry development and strategic aquaculture policy. The ministry’s Plant and Animal Health Laboratory supports Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s audit programs.
  • Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development issues Land Act tenures, authorizing use of Crown land and foreshore.
  • Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy issues permits for sewage discharge and pesticide use.

Under the agreement:

  • Canada may issue aquaculture licences under the Fisheries Act for all aquaculture activities to be undertaken in B.C.;
  • B.C. may issue land tenures under the Land Act for aquaculture purposes;
  • Canada and B.C. will make best efforts to harmonize their decision-making criteria and synchronize their decision-making processes.

By 2022, prior to issuing a new tenure or a renewal of a tenure, B.C. will now also require that open-net pen salmon farms demonstrate they have reached agreements with the First Nation(s) in whose traditional territories they intend to operate. There are currently 120 finfish aquaculture tenures in British Columbia.

The fish licences issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) for 95 of these sites will expire in 2022.  The DFO-issued licences for 21 farm sites in the Discovery Islands area are on an annual licensing regime.

The provincial Land Act tenures have expiry dates as follows:

  • 20 will expire in 2018 (17%)
  • Five will expire between 2019 and 2022 (4%)
  • 26 will expire between 2023 and 2030 (26%)
  • 38 will expire between 2031 and 2035 (32%)
  • Five will expire between 2035 and 2046 (4%)
  • 26 are currently on a month-to-month basis (22%)