BY Steve Sharratt
MONTAGUE — The Canadian aquaculture industry is trapped in a fog of confusion and needs a true champion to pilot the farms of the future onto the world stage, an international conference was told here this weekend.
“We’re living in a regulatory fog,” said pian Rogers, a leading consultant in the aquaculture and food sectors. “Something comes up and we respond to it . . . we need a strategy for the development of wealth from our ocean.”
Rogers, a former general manager of U.S.-based Stolt Sea Farm, one of the largest farmed salmon operations in the world, was one of the guest panelists at the How to Farm the Seas conference held at the pudenell River Resort Saturday. The native Newfoundlander said while other nations forge ahead with aquaculture production, Canada is still debating the issue.
“This is a rural-based industry that keeps people at home,” he told 150 delegates gathered at the event hosted by the Canadian Aquaculture Institute at the University of Prince Edward Island.
“Politicians love this . . . but they’re not getting behind it because someone doesn’t want their view affected. And that’s the major debate facing fin-fish aquaculture and its huge potential for development.”
The conference of producers, scientists and policy-makers was told that while phenomenal growth exists in Canada, opportunities and investment are going elsewhere because of the impediments facing domestic expansion.
“The question here is private-property resource versus public-property resource,” said Rogers. “Aquaculture is accepted and promoted in Norway and Chile, but we’re still debating whether this is an industry.”
The two-day conference rang alarm bells over stalled development in the industry which already contributes about 21 per cent of the value of all fishery products sold by Canada. But producers say the industry could grow tenfold in the next decade if government regulations stopped restricting the amount of sea-based leases handed out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
There are constant battles on both coasts as sea farmers — growing everything from shellfish to salmon — seek more water leases to expand while property owners oppose such growth because ocean views or pleasure boating might be impeded.
“Aquaculture has really become a crap shoot when it comes to who and where it can be developed,” said James Anderson, editor of SeafoodReport.com and a professor at the University of Rhode Island.
“The lines are continually blurred because of the lack of good policy when it comes to this industry.”
The conference referred to aquaculturists as the farmers of the future harvesting millions of pounds of food from the world’s oceans. And production figures certainly back up the claims. In less than 20 years since aquaculture took root, the production of farmed fish now accounts for almost one-third of the total fish caught and landed by commercial fishermen around the world.
“Property rights are a big question,” said Anderson. “How can environmentalism be practised when you can’t have property rights? You allow boaters to go through your farm, but would a cattle farmer do the same?”
Regulations are so overlapping and disjointed that the aquaculture industry must jump through the hoops of 26 different departments in the federal government. Some of the best sites for development are in the Shelburne/Halifax region of Nova Scotia, but the conference was told it was also an area with some of the highest real estate prices and property owners don’t want a salmon farm for a view.
“We need policy that provides us with the access to sites, the access to the best stocks, and access to financing,” said Rogers.
However, the industry, described as the new kid on the block, has certainly garnered the attention of some of the highest policy-makers. The deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans was also one of the panelists and agreed changes were necessary.
The stakeholders like environmental, commercial fishermen, boaters, consumers, recreational fishers, and shoreline property owners all want a say, but Wayne Wouters said aquaculture must be recognized as another part of the equation
“Aquaculture is here to stay and here to grow and is a legitimate user of our ocean resource,” he told the conference. “There has to be a way to accommodate this growing industry with all the other users of our ocean and water resources . . . and that can only come by way of dialogue.”
While it was welcome news, many at the conference insisted time is running out and Canada is missing out on a chance to generate huge amounts of wealth that will go to other nations who are prepared to respond to the growing market demands.