Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Yes, indeed, I would like to introduce Professor Ian Fleming from Memorial University of Newfoundland. He has worked on interactions between farmed and wild Atlantic salmon since the late 1980s. He's also worked on Pacific salmon and so he brings expertise from Europe, as well as from eastern and western Canada.
My name is Jeff Hutchings. I'm a professor of biology at Dalhousie University. I've worked on Atlantic salmon since the early 1980s, and I've worked on interactions between farmed and wild Atlantic salmon since the early 1990s.
We come here not only as professors of biology, but also as members of a Royal Society of Canada expert panel that recently addressed some issues pertaining to climate change, fisheries, and aquaculture on Canadian marine biodiversity.
My opening remarks will basically reflect the briefs sent beforehand.
Canada has a geographical imperative to be the international leader in oceans stewardship. Canada has the longest coastline in the world. Canada's seas might well be the largest of any country. Eight of ten provinces and all three territories, comprising 86% of Canada's population, border salt water. Canada is an ocean nation.
Canada's oceans constitute a vital biological and physical milieu that supports human health, societal well-being, and creation of wealth.
Canada has the benefit of, and responsibility for, three coastlines that contribute to society in numerous ways. For thousands of years, Canada's oceans have provided habitat for species of traditional and cultural significance to aboriginal people. Today, sustainably exploited fish populations and environmentally responsible aquaculture operations should provide secure local and national access to the protein and oils contained in seafood.
Dr. Fleming and I are co-authors of a recent national report on oceans, prepared in response to a request by the Royal Society of Canada that an independent expert panel be convened to advise on a series of questions related to the sustainability of Canada's marine biodiversity. Following its deliberations from June 2010 to January 2012, the panel released its report on February 2 entitled, Sustaining Canada's Marine Biodiversity: Responding to the Challenges Posed by Climate Change, Fisheries, and Aquaculture.
Pursuant to the current interests of this standing committee, the report attempts to describe and forecast how aquaculture has affected, and is likely to affect, Canadian marine biodiversity; to determine whether Canada has fulfilled its commitments to sustain marine biodiversity; and to provide strong, strategically based recommendations to establish Canada as an international leader in oceans stewardship and marine conservation.
The environmental impacts of open-net sea pen aquaculture, as opposed to closed containment facilities, are commonly grouped into four categories: ecological interactions; genetic consequences; diseases and parasites; and habitat alteration. More specifically, these include concerns about chemical inputs such as antibiotics, antifoulants, and pesticides; nutrient-loading and deterioration of the sea bottom; sources of feed for wild salmon; the effects of escapees and use of non-native species; and the exchange of pathogens and diseases such as infectious salmon anemia between the local, natural, and farming environments. All of these interactions are known to occur in the open-net sea pens typical of Canadian aquaculture operations. Most or all of these interactions can be mitigated by closed containment facilities, particularly those deployed on land.
There is no other region of the world where open-net sea pen salmon farming is practised that has greater salmon and salmonid diversity, abundance, and natural ecosystems potentially at risk than in British Columbia. On Canada's Pacific coast, it is generally accepted that open-net sea pen salmon farms can cause infections of the salmon louse—a type of sea lice—and contribute to infections in native salmon, and that these infections can increase juvenile salmon mortality. There is reason to believe that the harm posed by pathogens might be greater than is currently perceived.
Turning to the Atlantic coast, unlike the Pacific, Atlantic salmon are native to Atlantic waters. Thus, there is a threat to wild salmon resulting from interbreeding between farmed salmon that escape from open-net sea pens and wild salmon.
To date, escaped farm salmon have been reported in 54 rivers and bays, which constitutes 87% of the watersheds that have been investigated since the inception of the salmon aquaculture industry.
Farmed salmon differs genetically from wild salmon. When farmed and wild salmon interbreed, the outcome is frequently negative for wild salmon. Compounding the documented environmental impacts of aquaculture is the fact that the abundance of wild salmon is at historically low levels on the east coast, especially where salmon aquaculture farming is prosecuted. These salmon populations have recently been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
Regarding pathogens, infectious salmon anemia, or ISA, has already caused enormous economic losses to salmon aquaculture and constitutes a threat to wild populations because of the magnification of pathogen abundance in sea cages. Just last week a third salmon farm in Nova Scotia was destroyed because of ISA.
The Royal Society report found the following pertaining to salmon aquaculture, and this is just a summary. First, wild bottom-dwelling organisms and their habitat can be affected by organic wastes and chemicals inputs. Second, exchange of pathogens between farmed and wild fish can threaten the persistence of wild populations. Third, interbreeding between wild Atlantic salmon and farmed escapees threatens the reproductive capability and recovery potential of wild salmon of conservation concern, and finally, open-net sea pens have far greater potential and realized negative consequence to marine life than closed containment facilities.
The sustainability of Atlantic salmon farming will continue to be debated until there is a fuller understanding and more meaningful inclusion of public values and opinions within aquaculture management and government policy decisions. For example, the lack of transparency and public reporting of diseases at aquaculture farms has hindered meaningful, constructive, and respectful debate. A higher standard of transparency and accountability by both industry and Fisheries and Oceans Canada should have been anticipated, but this has yet to be achieved.
From a statutory perspective, Canada continues to rely on a complex patchwork of federal and provincial laws to regulate the aquaculture industry. This existing patchwork of more than 70 pieces of federal and provincial legislation does not appear adequate for ensuring environmentally sustainable aquaculture and healthy marine biodiversity.
The Pacific aquaculture regulations, for example, lack clear legislative guidance regarding objectives, principles, and procedures, and existing licences in Atlantic Canada might be open to legal challenge for being beyond the constitutional jurisdiction of the provinces.
The Royal Society panel recommends that Parliament draft and enact federal aquaculture legislation that specifies requirements and guidance on national objectives and procedures for all aquaculture operations. Such a recommendation is not new. Indeed, a federal aquaculture act was recommended by this standing committee in 2003.
Benefits of such legislation include the assurance of a principled approach to aquaculture access and operations, clarification of property rights, and encouragement of an integrated regulatory approach. The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance has been especially vocal about the need for Canada to join other major farmed seafood-producing countries in having dedicated national aquaculture legislation.
Canada faces significant challenges in its efforts to conserve and sustain marine biological life, in light of climate change, fisheries, and aquaculture. The simplest and best strategy to deal with these three stressors to biodiversity is to protect existing diversity, and rebuild depleted populations and species to restore natural diversity.
The challenge then will be to sustain species and populations at levels at which Canada's marine biodiversity is able to optimize the ecosystem services the oceans provide in support of Canadian society and the welfare of the global community. By improving and protecting the health of Canada's oceans, such a strategy will restore the natural resilience of Canada's ocean ecosystems to adapt in response to the challenges posed by human activities.
With specific reference to aquaculture, the use of closed containment technology, particularly on land, will mitigate many of the environmental and biodiversity impacts of open-net sea pen salmon farming.
The Royal Society of Canada expert panel asserts that an environmentally responsible aquaculture operation should represent a fundamentally integral component to any comprehensive strategy by Canada to assert its national and international ocean stewardship responsibilities.
Therein ends my opening remarks, Mr. Chair.