Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we will have a briefing on reports of the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, spring 2018.
I'd like to welcome our guests.
We have Philippe Morel, assistant deputy minister, aquatic ecosystems sector; Mr. John Campbell, acting director general, aquaculture management; Mr. Wayne Moore, director general, strategic and regulatory science; and by video conference, we have Andrew Thomson, regional director, fisheries management.
From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we have Dr. Penny Greenwood, national manager, domestic disease control section. Joining her is Dr. Michelle Illing, acting executive director, animal health directorate.
We'll start off with a presentation from the department. When you're ready, you have seven minutes or less, please.
Thank you for the invitation to report on our progress on addressing the recommendations from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's report on salmon farming and its conclusions on how to improve salmon aquaculture governance in Canada.
My colleagues from the Strategic and Regulatory Science Directorate, the Aquaculture Management Directorate and, in the regions, Fisheries Management of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, are here to provide you with answers and give you more information on our measures.
My colleagues and I had the pleasure of addressing these recommendations at the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans last week.
As you know, aquaculture is jointly managed by federal, provincial and territorial governments. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the primary regulator in British Columbia, and we co-manage aquaculture in Prince Edward Island with our provincial colleagues. In all other provinces, the provincial governments are the primary regulators of aquaculture activities.
Canada already has a strong aquaculture regulatory regime, but it can be improved. It is our goal to work towards a clear, consistent and responsible regulatory framework to support an environmentally and socially sustainable aquaculture industry in Canada.
The commissioner's audit made eight recommendations to Fisheries and Oceans Canada on managing the risks associated with salmon aquaculture in order to protect wild fish, one of which also implicates the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
We have agreed with the recommendations set out in the report and are on track to deliver on the work necessary to address all eight recommendations.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are the two federal entities managing aquatic animal health in Canada. We coordinate our efforts and collaborate to deliver the national aquatic animal health program, or NAAHP. The agency is the federal lead for the NAAHP, whereas Fisheries and Oceans Canada provides research and laboratory diagnostic support. CFIA authorizes movements of aquatic animals under the program, subject to relevant import or domestic program requirements.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada also authorizes live fish movement based on the consideration of disease, genetic and environmental risk, via licences issued under section 56 of the fishery (general) regulations. These regulations are set to be amended to continue to clarify the roles of the department given the full implementation of the NAAHP in 2015.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the CFIA collaborate on studies exploring the disease interaction of wild and farmed fish to progressively adapt and improve fish health management practices and oversight. Additional measures are also in place in most provinces to further manage aquatic diseases.
In British Columbia, where Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the lead regulator of aquaculture and issues aquaculture licences under the pacific aquaculture regulations, licence conditions are in place to ensure the continued conservation and protection of wild and farmed fish.
In Atlantic Canada, the provinces are the lead regulators of aquaculture and have developed a regionally standardized approach to disease evaluation via the issuance of a certificate of health for transfer for live cultured finfish.
In response to the commissioner's report, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency established an interdepartmental working group in May 2018 to directly address emerging disease issues. The working group is currently finalizing a draft joint policy on the management of emerging diseases of aquatic organisms in Canada, and is on track for implementation by the department and agency in April 2019.
The joint emerging disease policy would establish an interdepartmental committee to manage emerging diseases and provide for formal processes, including the timely dissemination of information between and within organizations. This committee would also work in close consultation with provincial veterinarians.
With respect to the work of the emerging disease committee, we will also explore how to better and more clearly communicate to Canadians the federal approach to managing emerging diseases in aquatic organisms, which is a key goal under the 2016-19 aquaculture development strategy that was approved by the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers.
Additionally, the federal government is pursuing further initiatives that will help mitigate potential environmental impacts of aquaculture operations, such as a proposal to work together with provincial and indigenous partners, and industry to develop a collaborative, area-based approach to planning and managing aquaculture. This approach would assess and address potential cumulative environmental impacts within a defined, large-scale region.
The Government of Canada is also committed to advancing innovation in the aquaculture sector, particularly to improve environmental protection. Specifically, the government is embarking on a study that will look at the economic feasibility of different aquaculture production technologies along with their environmental footprint.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada understands that we must continually assess and adapt our management approaches to ensure we are protecting the environment, while fostering responsible growth and innovation in Canada's aquaculture sector.
I will conclude my remarks here, and my colleagues and I will be happy to respond to any questions that you may have.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I appreciate this opportunity to speak to our role in the regulation of agriculture, which includes aquaculture, and our ongoing collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The agency is the federal regulatory lead for animal disease. This includes diseases that affect terrestrial and aquatic animals. The list is broad and includes diseases that affect cattle, swine, horses, deer, bees, finfish, molluscs, crustaceans and other species.
On the international scene, the CFIA is recognized as the leading competent authority on animal health. We are Canada's representative at the World Organisation for Animal Health, sometimes known as OIE, and contribute to the development of international standards that are science-based and risk-based in order to facilitate safe trade of live animals and animal products.
Under the Health of Animals Act, the CFIA has the authority to control any disease of any animal, diseases transmitted from animals to people, as well as toxic substances.
As stated by my colleague, the CFIA works in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to deliver the national aquatic animal health program, or the NAAHP, under the Health of Animals Act and supporting regulations.
Since the full implementation of the NAAHP in 2015, fish health management has moved from DFO to the CFIA, as the agency has the mandate to protect Canadian wild and cultured aquatic resources from serious disease.
The CFIA also has the mandate to maintain competitive international market access for wild and cultured fish and seafood.
DFO plays a key role in the delivery of the NAAHP through provision of laboratory diagnostic services and research.
Consistent with other animal health programs delivered by the CFIA, the goal of the NAAHP is to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic animal diseases to both cultured and wild aquatic animals.
The NAAHP has the following components: an import control program, which includes control measures for foreign and domestic animal diseases; a domestic and foreign animal disease control program, supported by disease response plans and the requirement to notify the CFIA if disease is suspected; a domestic movement control program, which includes declaration of the disease status of Canada and parts of Canada; and a supporting disease surveillance program.
In addition, the NAAHP is designed to meet international aquatic animal health standards and works to maintain competitive international market access. In this realm, the NAAHP also includes an export program, where the CFIA certifies the disease status of cultured and wild aquatic animals leaving Canada.
As presented by DFO, the CESD audit of CFIA and DFO programs recommended that the departments clarify their roles and responsibilities for managing emerging disease risks to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and parasites, as well as mitigating the potential impacts of salmon farming on wild fish.
The CFIA and DFO have agreed with this recommendation and have since been working together to develop and document a formal process, as my colleague mentioned, a joint policy and associated framework, to discuss and evaluate emerging diseases and clarify the federal government response to mitigate potential impacts to wild fish. The scope of the joint policy has been broadened beyond salmonids to include infectious emerging diseases of finfish, molluscs and crustaceans. The draft policy will be completed by the end of 2018, and we're on track for implementation by April 2019.
The CFIA will continue to work closely with DFO, provincial and territorial authorities, indigenous peoples and the industry from coast to coast to streamline our regulatory authorities and deliver our mandate under the NAAHP to, first of all, implement controls to prevent aquatic animal diseases from being imported into or spread within Canada; and second, to safeguard Canada's natural aquatic animal resources.
Thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to your questions for both departments.
If there's not a definitive answer of yes or no, then “it depends”, I suppose, is an answer. It just leaves a window of doubt open.
The transparency of the operations on the west coast is in question. I've had numerous conversations with Alex Morton, who attempts to go in and conduct research. She's driven off and banned from being there. I think sunshine is the best disinfectant here, because the more that happens, the more there appears to be gaps in either perception or reality. I don't know why she isn't given full rein to go in and conduct what she wants to conduct, peer review it, and either disapprove of it or support it, as the case may be.
Sir, from Vancouver, do you have a thought on that?
You're dealing with a perception issue, and as long as you have a situation where somebody is forbidden from going on and exercising what talents they can bring to the table, it is going to raise questions—and questions have been raised.
This question is for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Are you comfortable with, if you like, the sharing of duties and authorities with the DFO? On the one hand you have the responsibility for the health of the fish, which leads into my last question, but the DFO, of course, has a responsibility to basically help and support the aquaculture industry, even though the Cohen commission said that was a bad mix for you guys. As far as the CFIA is concerned, are you convinced that the health of these fish is adequately monitored and that they are indeed in good health?
Thank you, Chair, and thank you to all of the witnesses for being here today.
It was interesting in the spring when we went over the commissioner's report with her and started looking at some of the fine details in it. The one troubling thing that I saw, which was cause to have you in for this meeting today, was the two departments' responses to the recommendation.
The recommendation is, “Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency should clarify their roles and responsibilities for managing emerging disease risks to mitigate potential impacts of salmon farming on wild fish”.
I have to make sure I get the responses right because they contradict each other.
This is from DFO: “Agreed. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will continue to work collaboratively with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the federal lead for managing diseases of both farmed and wild fish....” Note that DFO identifies CFIA as the federal lead. CFIA's response is that CFIA “will work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to develop and document a formal process to discuss and evaluate emerging diseases of concern to either government entity and decide which entity will assume which role or responsibility with regard to such diseases in order to protect wild fish.”
Fisheries and Oceans has said that CFIA is the lead role and then CFIA says you have to get together and sort that out still. Why is there the discrepancy in the response? Has there been progress made towards sorting out that discrepancy?
During the audit, they felt that the roles and responsibilities were clear on the existing fish health topics, so in my previous answer, I have just said that DFO is clearly responsible for genetic and environmental and we're clearly the lead for disease.
The thing about emerging disease is that we never know when an emerging disease comes up whether it's going to be one of great significance to Canada or not. The way that the national aquatic animal health program works is that we don't necessarily have controls on all diseases. Through consultation with our stakeholders, we decide which disease we're going to put specific controls or responses on and which we will allow industry or the provinces to manage.
As a result of that, the DFO would like to be at the table for those discussions and those consultations to be able to make the primary decision about whether or not this is going to be a disease that CFIA adds to their list, for which they will have a response or a concern about. There may be components associated with the environment or genetics that play into that as well, so it was necessary for the emerging diseases to say that, since it's a little bit fuzzy, we will specifically address that through policy.
That is an excellent question. Thank you to the member, via the Chair.
As I mentioned, the first one is completed and published. We have recently held a peer review on the next four with a set of scientists from inside the department. External experts have looked over the next four as well, which are really bacteria-driven pathogens. That's in the process of being finalized.
The steering committee just met for the sixth one yesterday. That work is well under way. We're targeting the end of January for that peer review with external experts. We're reaching out for data from a wide range of sources.
We'll finish the next four over the course of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 because some of them can be done in pairs. As well, we'll do a summative one, which looks at the cumulative impact of all these disease risks. Looking at them one by one is not sufficient in and of itself, so we also want to do a summary piece.
We're confident that we can meet the timeline set out in the response here, as well as by Commissioner Cohen.
I'd like to thank the departmental officials for being here on this important discussion.
I want to continue on the aquaculture discussion.
Disease, viruses and sea lice have been a long-standing problem with aquaculture. I am going to specifically focus on the west coast because that's where I'm from and that's what prompted me to become an MP back in 2009. It was on this one. It was former prime minister Stephen Harper who called the inquiry into the missing sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. That is something I got involved in right off the bat, before becoming an MP. That was in 2009.
I want to specifically focus on PRV and HSMI. Why has it taken so long to put together an interdepartmental committee to finally focus on this? I'm just hearing 2018. This has been an issue for over 10 years. I know it's been longer. Why has it taken so long?
Okay, I could have clarified and asked about the last 10 or 20 years, but fair enough. I'm not sure if, back at the turn of the last century, it was as much of an issue as it is now, but I can tell you that the industry is having a hard time continuing, because this is a continuing issue today. It has been since I've been an MP, which is almost a decade.
That's the focus that I'm getting at. We hear a lot of he-said-she-said on science. What I think this industry wants is certainty to move on. What the commercial fishers and first nations along the west coast want is certainty that their way of life is not being impacted.
I know salmon sport and recreational fishers are concerned that disease coming in from Norway or other countries is affecting our wild salmon. They rely, as we do, on the department and the Government of Canada to protect them and their industry.
I'm not trying to be glib, and I'm not trying to get a certain answer. I'm hoping for a certain answer. I'm hoping the answer is no, we've never let any diseased eggs in the country, because that's the accusation; that's what we're hearing. It would be good to know that.
In terms of the interdepartmental committee, have we spoken to Norway and taken advantage of their advice and what they've been going through with this problem? They have a more mature industry than we have. Has Canada spoken to Norway?
I'm on the other side of the country on the east coast. We have a very different perspective on some of the industry from some people on the west coast.
In Newfoundland and Labrador the province is responsible for licensing, inspections and enforcement while DFO is responsible for habitat protection. There's a shared responsibility, and it's much different from what happens on the west coast of the country. I want to ask you a couple of questions around that.
The audit recommends that DFO needs to provide long-term funding for research on the effects of aquaculture activities on wild fish.
How much yearly funding is provided for that type of research and is an increase or a decrease in funding expected?
I anticipated that question; however, I feel that we need to focus on the Atlantic region because it's very different from what happens in western Canada, number one.
Number two, the people from Norway are doing a major aquaculture development in my riding, as we speak. It's in no way bringing its best practices and the fundamentals of the running of the industry. They've done it right, I guess, and they've grown a major industry. I'm thinking that if we were to do some kind of jurisdictional scan to find out what the best practices are, and if we learn from that exercise, perhaps the same practices could be applied in Atlantic Canada, and of course finally, with western Canada as well.
I think rather than a large scope for the study, I'd prefer we stick with doing the Atlantic region at this stage.
Scientists don't do much in 45 seconds or less—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Wayne Moore: —but I will suggest that two important areas have been identified during the course of our work over a number of years: interactions with the environment, as well as disease issues. Those are all interactions between wild fish and aquaculture. We've invested a lot of new money, time and energy in that, including the risk assessments that we just spoke about.
Another area is genetic interactions. We've invested a significant number of resources there as well.
An area that continues to raise questions, and which we're working to fit in, is that of climate change and how that's changing our understanding of relationships with regard to aquaculture and and with regard to wild shellfish, as well as the interactions between the two. I'd leave it at that.
I would like to clarify that before, I was talking about the policy for emerging diseases. In the scientific world, “emerging disease” means something extremely specific. It means a disease that is new to the scientific community or to the world at large, or a disease that has been known before but has changed radically in its characteristics or behaviour. We were only talking about emerging diseases as far as this policy goes, and that came forward from the recommendation of the audit.
With regard to the other diseases, one of our primary sources, or things we look at to decide about importance, is the World Organisation for Animal Health's list of diseases. That organization looks at all diseases, terrestrial and aquatic, that pose a threat to international trade. They are suggesting, as a world scientific body, that if you introduce them into your country, you will have a difficulty in controlling or eradicating them in the future. CFIA looks at the OIE lists very carefully.
We also weigh consultation with the industry, the provinces and indigenous peoples, and we undertook that to a great extent during the development of the NAAHP. We did extensive consultations on a full list of diseases, and asked, “Which would you like to see the federal government control, because you think that they're significant to the industry or to the country, and that they can be controlled in a manner that would be effective?”
Those are the two major parameters that we use.
Yes, thank you very much, sir.
Now I have a better understanding of the question Mr. Donnelly was asking. There has been in place for a long period of time controls over the importation of eggs. Prior to the amendment of the Health of Animals Act to include aquatic animals, there was previously the fish health protection regulations administered by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Under those previous regulations, there were also requirements to ensure that eggs imported into British Columbia, and into Canada at that point, came from a quarantine facility, were surface disinfected en route and then went into another quarantine facility. There have been in place for a long period of time fairly significant controls on the importation of any salmon eggs or other eggs into British Columbia.
As for how many particular importations have taken place in the last few years, I don't have that data in front of me, but I know it's a very small number, if not zero. I'm happy to provide that data as soon as possible to the committee.
Thank you very much to the member for the question, via you, Mr. Chair.
Certainly, there's a growing interest in alternative technologies in terms of this. We've been doing a lot of research in this area, and there are a number of them that are looking promising, such as using fish that will actually eat sea lice—very strange—as well as the washes that were referred to in the media earlier this month, I think, using warm water. Our research has shown that these are promising. I think we'll need to look at more active monitoring in situ over time, to see how well they are paying off.
The only point I would add to that is that ultimately, as in the area of agriculture—and I think those members not from the coast will know this—it takes a broad and fully integrated approach to pest management, not just a single tool. I think these alternative technologies are useful tools in the tool kit.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the group for being here today to answer some questions.
I might be going a little bit outside the real study, but it's still pertinent to what we're doing here.
I'm the chair of the ag committee, and roughly two years ago, we looked at the first time that GMO salmon was going to be farmed. I guess it was just the production of the eggs. I believe this was on Prince Edward Island, to be shipped to Panama. From there, it would be farmed and then shipped back to Canada as a product.
I haven't heard anything back. Could you let us know how that project is working and whether there's any plan of expanding it? In other words, is there any plan for some of the aquaculture to be used for GMO salmon? Could you expand on that?
To follow up on the commissioner's recommendation 1.28, which is the one on DFO conducting its planned disease risk assessments by 2020, I have information that DFO will deliver the disease risk assessment as planned.
There are a couple of the actions that I want to talk about.
In April 2018, there was a workshop to discuss the assessments of four diseases related to bacterial pathogens that cause systemic infections. The working papers for the peer-reviewed process have been completed.
Is this information available online?