Greater public sector framing of aquacultural activities
As discussed, the aquaculture sector is largely dominated by private sector actors, with relatively weak framing of sustainability requirements by government, including limited regulatory guidance on conservation of aquatic organism genetics in aquaculture. Most of what guidance and programming exists is NGO-driven, and much of that is still in development and lacks the authority of the state. The Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner expressed concern about too tight a relationship between Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the CFIA, and the aquaculture industry, one that is impeding movement to greater sustainability (Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, 2018; Nerenberg, 2018). Provincial aquaculture strategies also reflect a deficient focus on sustainability (see, for example, the NS strategy which has limited mention of sustainability and what it does contain focuses primarily on export markets).
The adoption of an Aquaculture Act with provisions as suggested under Efficiency would help with sustainability framing for the aquaculture sector. At this stage, additional measure are required.
Training for the aquaculture sector happens at the community college level and a select number of universities. Understandably, given the structure of the sector, the community college programs appear to have a sustainability approach consistent with the industry view. Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador presents a Masters in Sustainable Aquaculture, but the course requirements are relatively thin and previous thesis topics do not appear to be central to a sustainability agenda. On the AqGR side, the focus of all these programs appears to be high performance genetics. Comparable to sustainable development education in faculties of education and agriculture (see Goal 3 Public Research), and Goal 8, Labour Force Development, Efficiency), in addition to the federal Act, provincial governments will need to incentivize education program changes. Provincial bodies assuring quality of university programs can apply regulatory pressure. The Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers (CCFAM) would also need to play a co-ordinating role in program redesign to assure consistency across pertinent provinces and territories. CCFAM's strategic plan (16-19) displayed a limited understanding of sustainability and did not directly discuss training needs, but such work would appear to fall within its mandate.
Given that aquaculture is positioned significantly as a regional economic development strategy, supports in this domain should also reflect a focus on sustainability and conservation of AqGR, something largely absent from supports to date (see Goal 1, Economic Development).
Develop transition infrastructure to facilitate movement to land-based systems
Given the potential threats to wild and domesticated genetic resources, open water finfish farming is problematic. Although Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to support, at least partially, open-water systems, the evidence is mounting that such large scale aquaculture can not be sustainable and conserving of genetic resources. In recognition of this reality, the movement to land-based, contained systems for smolts and lifecycle production is underway. The licenses of 19 fish farms in the Discovery Islands of BC along critical wild salmon migration routes will not be renewed by the federal government as of July 2022 (Smart, 2020). The federal government has also made promises in 2019 about transition of more BC aquaculture operations to land based ones by 2025. But subsequent announcements indicate they only plan to have a transition plan in place by 2025 (Cox, 2020)
However, there is currently little transition infrastructure to support this evolution. Transition planning for agriculture is also at a nascent stage (Goal 5, Sustainable Food, Substitution), but in Canada we have even less for the aquaculture sector. Although BC, PEI and NS have land-based operations (including some operated by First Nations), none of the provinces have a comprehensive plan for implementing land-based salmon farming (Cox, 2020). A review of provincial responsibilities for aquaculture (DFO 2009) suggests there have not been mandates or staff to support such transitions.
The transition will be complex, with significant capital expenses and issues regarding land use planning, water and energy. In the absence of infrastructure and support, and based on current market dynamics, the initial shift will likely be to large scale land - based enterprises, some of which will focus on larger smolt production positioned near coasts. but that could limit fuller transition to land based systems because such approaches prop up the open water pen model (Cox, 2020).
Each province / territory with operations should establish transition planning services that help existing operations shift from open water to land based systems. The services should also advise on strategies to minimize genetic erosion of domesticated species. Given that governments originally approved the open water model, and investments were made based on that approval, the services should be free, with the staffing and operating expenses of the service covered by provincial/territorial and federal funding. Current government resources devoted to propping up the open water model (research, monitoring, operational reviews) can be reduced, and this shift will also save governments money, so the net costs of operating transition services will be lower than gross costs.
An international agreement on AqGR
With better data collection, the stage is set for an international agreement to curtail the process of industrialization of aquaculture and aquatic genetic resources, something akin to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. but amended to reflect the proposals set out in the sections on plants, animals and fish. As a signatory to the plant agreement, Canada should advocate for such a treaty.