Given the dismal state of world fisheries and their continuing decline—exacerbated by climate change—aquaculture is touted by some to be a promising means for fulfilling the growing global demand for seafood, as reﬂected in its rapid growth as a segment of the global food system. However, large-scale aquaculture presents a complex set of environmental and social issues, and the introduction of genetically engineered fish and seafood adds a further layer of complexity to the already contentious nature of conventional aquaculture practices.
This article is a critical analysis of aquaculture regulation in Canada. In addition to setting out some of the major issues posed by industrialized aquaculture, it argues that shifting the “production” of seafood from marine fisheries to aquaculture merely shifts the cause of environmental damages. Further, in the context of food security, large-scale aquaculture is an inadequate and oversimplified solution to the problems raised by coastal and Indigenous populations’ reliance on declining fisheries resources. Specifically, using two case studies, this paper criticizes the current system’s overreliance on dominant risk paradigms, which are often closely informed by science. Yet, the relationship between law and science is fraught with tensions, as the two have notably diﬀerent priorities and methods. In rethinking the role of aquaculture in natural marine resource management, especially in a changing climate, it is important to ensure that careful regard is given to the socio-cultural factors, inequities, and environmental degradation that are inherent in the production of seafood.
“I accept the undisputed evidence that there is some risk posed to Fraser River sockeye from diseases on salmon farms, but I cannot make a determination as to the precise level of risk. Therefore, precaution would suggest assuming that the risk is not insignificant.”
This quote could have been taken directly out of the recent Federal Court decision of Morton v Canada (Fisheries and Oceans) since the issues address by that case are closely related to the ones in front of the Cohen Commission of Inquiry (Cohen) 3 years before. In fact Justice Rinnie recognized this context. It seems, however, that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) did not head the wise words of Commissioner Cohen and continued to treat some serious salmon disease – specifically piscine reovirus (PRV) and heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI) disease – carelessly. But ignoring an issue does not make it go away. Thankfully for the vigilance of Ms. Morton, DFO will now have to rethink some of its approach to aquaculture. In Part 1 of this post, I explored the issues of the standard of review, the precautionary principle, and the reasonableness of the aquaculture fish transfer licence conditions. In this Part, I look at the issue of illegal sub-delegation of discretionary powers, especially in this case when discretion was delegated to the industry. I reproduced the background section of Part 1 below for ease of reference.
If you have ever spent any significant amount of time on the west coast, you know how important and contentious of an issue salmon fishery is. Salmon fishery is part of the culture of many First Nations and coastal communities. It is a considerable industry, both in terms of commercial fisheries and aquaculture. Its future is uncertain as stocks seem to fluctuate beyond the comprehension of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). There is no shortage of causes (diseases, pollution, poor management, climate change, etc), but as the Cohen Commission of Inquiry (Cohen) concluded, none is dominant. Among them is the risk caused by diseases brought in the salmons’ ecosystem through aquaculture. This particular risk is plague by a familiar environmental policy issue: scientific uncertainty. However, as Cohen found, this uncertainty does not in fact diminishes the risks. Last week, the Federal Court rendered a decision specifically on this issue in Morton v Canada (Fisheries and Oceans), a decision that provide some much needed follow up on Cohen’s aquaculture conclusions. In part one of this two parts post I’ll look at the question of judicial review of a strongly circumscribed ministerial discretion, and the use of the precautionary principle in reasonableness review. In the second part I’ll look at the question of sub-delegation of regulatory requirements to industries.