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The environmental impact of salmon aquaculture in Passamaquoddy Bay, New Brunswick

Petition: 300

Issue(s): Biological diversity, compliance and enforcement, fisheries, human/environmental health, and international cooperation

Petitioner(s): Joseph Gough

Date Received: 3 June 2010

Status: Completed

Summary: The petitioner is concerned about the environmental impact of intensive salmon aquaculture in the Passamaquoddy region of New Brunswick. The petitioner asks the federal government about the potential impact that this aquaculture may have on fish habitats and fisheries, as well as on other species. He also raises concerns about cross-border transmission of diseases and invasive species and about possible non-compliance with the Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States. In addition, he asks how the aquaculture affects pollution levels as well as economic, environmental, and aesthetic values, and whether Fisheries and Oceans Canada is respecting the precautionary principle.

Petition

Joseph Gough

[personal information withheld at the petitioner’s request]

29 May 2010

Office of the Auditor General of Canada
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Attention: Petitions
240 Sparks Street
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0G6

Petition:  Aquaculture and its effects in Passamaquoddy Bay, New Brunswick.

Dear Commissioner:

The following constitutes an environmental petition with respect mainly to aquaculture and its effects in Passamaquoddy Bay, Charlotte County, New Brunswick. This is the original salmon-farming area on the Atlantic, and development is highly intensive.   

By Passamaquoddy or Quoddy, for purposes of this petition, I mean the area landward of lines drawn, first, from Head Harbour (East Quoddy) light on the northeast end of Campobello Island to the headlands seaward of Back Bay, N.B. (see Map 1), and second, inside of a line drawn from West Quoddy light in Lubec, Maine, to the closest point on the southwest end of Campobello (see Map 2).  By Friar’s Bay, I mean the area, roughly a nautical mile long, between Friar’s Head and Deer Point/Welshpool wharf on Campobello (see Map 2). By Friar Roads, I mean the general area enclosed by Welshpool and Friar’s Bay on Campobello; Lubec and Treat’s Island, Maine; Eastport, Maine; and Indian Island and the southwest part of Deer Island, New Brunswick (see Map 2). The international border runs through Friar Roads.

Further background appears as a preface to specific questions. I will treat topics under eight headings.  Different questions address the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Environment Canada, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade; I trust you will pass my items on to any other department or agency that you feel appropriate.

 

MAP 1

Map 1

MAP 2

Map 2

I. Habitat loss

The sea bottom supports many organisms that provide food, for example, to lobster and to groundfish such as pollock and cod. I gather that DFO research by Dr. Barry Hargrave and others has shown that deposits from salmon cages (including food waste and feces) effectively kill the bottom below. (Effects include:  worms stop tunneling, oxygen diminishes, anaerobic bacteria become dominant, and the seabed ecosystem reaches a critical point.) Given the intensive aquaculture in Passamaquoddy – upwards of 90 sites, close together – this adds up to considerable habitat loss. The Fisheries Act forbids harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat.

Question 1:  Has DFO or any responsible agency quantified, or will it quantify and make known, the amount of bottom habitat lost to salmon cages in Passamaquoddy? 

Question 2:  Has DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency launched or caused to be launched, or will it undertake investigations with a view to launching, legal or other punitive actions against salmon-cage operators who have harmed the bottom beneath in Passamaquoddy?

II. Effects on other species and on fisheries

In Friar’s Bay and elsewhere in Passamaquoddy, salmon cages have displaced herring weirs and taken over grounds formerly fished for scallops or other species. 

Question 3: Will DFO or any responsible agency make known, or undertake investigations to quantify and make known, the amount and potential present-day value of fishing lost because of displacement by aquaculture in Friar’s Bay, including former herring weirs and other fishing grounds?

In Passamaquoddy generally, catches of groundfish and herring have dropped sharply since the advent of aquaculture. Apart from specific incidents such as sea-lice treatments killing large numbers of lobsters, some scientists speculate that broader changes associated with salmon cages are affecting other Quoddy fisheries.  Possible factors besides habitat loss include pollution (e.g., from waste, medications, cleaning agents, or sea-lice treatments), seal-scaring noisemakers, and environmental signals given off by the millions of salmon – a predator species – massed in cages.

Question 4: Will DFO or any responsible agency cite and summarize research, or undertake the necessary research, to show to scientific satisfaction whether and how much the salmon cages are affecting abundance, migration, or life history of other species (including wild salmon) in Passamaquoddy?

Wild salmon have declined critically in the Bay of Fundy. Inner Bay of Fundy populations appear on the endangered-species list. The most alarming decline has come since the onset of aquaculture. Apart from other possible environmental effects associated with salmon cages, it appears that farmed salmon, bred over generations in captivity, sometimes escape from cages, colonize rivers, and interbreed with wild salmon, to their detriment.
 
Question 5: Will DFO or any responsible agency give an estimate of how many salmon have escaped from cages and to what degree they have established themselves in Bay of Fundy rivers traditionally inhabited by wild salmon?

III. Cross-border transmission of diseases

Several years ago, infectious salmon anemia  (ISA) travelled from a farm at Deer Island, on the northern side of Friar Roads, to American waters on the western side of Friar Roads, where salmon farms were operating at Cobscook Bay, between Eastport and Lubec, and Johnson Bay, Lubec. The ISA caused millions of dollars of damage to the American farms. A quick survey of scientific information on the Internet indicates that, with cages close to the border and strong tidal mixing, cross-border transmission of diseases remains a threat in this area.

Question 6: Will DFO or any responsible agency confirm or deny, with appropriate explanation, that when salmon-affecting diseases are present in waters in or near the Friar Roads area, the cross-border transmission of those diseases through the water remains a possibility?

Question 7: Setting aside the particular Passamaquoddy situation, could DFO, Environment Canada, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade, or any responsible agency answer the following: in an area where cross-border transmission of aquaculture-related diseases present in salmon cages constitutes a threat, could a cage-free buffer zone at the border provide, in principle, an environmentally healthful option for reducing the danger of cross-border transmission of diseases?

Question 8: If the answer to Question 7 is yes or even maybe, will DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency investigate the potential benefits of a cage-free buffer zone in Friar Roads?

IV. The Boundary Waters Treaty

The Canada-United States Boundary Waters Treaty regarding navigable waters states that “any interference with . . . such waters on either side of the boundary, resulting in any injury on the other side of the boundary, shall give rise to the same rights and entitle the injured parties to the same legal remedies as if such injury took place in the country where such diversion or interference occurs,” and that “waters herein defined as boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.”

Question 9:  Setting aside the particular case of Friar Roads and Passamaquoddy salmon farms, will the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade or any responsible agency clarify whether the following set of circumstances could constitute an offence against, or at least raise questions of compliance with, the Boundary Waters Treaty?  The posited set of circumstances is:  a salmon farm in close proximity to a border well known for strong tides and tidal mixing knowingly harbours a disease that spreads by means of those tides, and could have been expected to spread, to caged salmon on the other side of the border.

V.  Cross-border travel of invasive species

Tunicates from other countries have found a pleasant home at aquaculture sites in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In Eastport, Maine, tunicates have infested wharves near salmon sites. (For on-line pictures, one can Google “Didemnum vexillum – Cobscook Bay2, Maine, images.”) While DFO in its public statements firmly opposes aquatic invasive species, Environment Canada holds primary responsibility.

Question 10: Would Environment Canada or any responsible agency agree that in normal circumstances and putting aside any local particularities, removing salmon cages from close proximity to an international marine border could provide a measure of additional protection against invasive tunicates?

VI. Pollution and sewage

Sea-lice treatments, net-cleaning treatments, and other chemical measures at salmon farms can affect other species.

Question 11: Will DFO or any responsible agency state the number and potential value of lobsters known to have been lost in Passamaquoddy because of chemicals used at salmon cages?

Question 12: Will DFO or any responsible agency cite the research, or undertake the necessary research, to show whether and how much sea lice associated with salmon cages, or the treatments for such sea lice, have harmed other species in Passamaquoddy?

My rough calculations suggest that the salmon cages in Friar’s Bay produce urine, feces, and other sewage equal to the production of a fair-sized city, and that such sewage in Passamaquoddy overall would dwarf the production of Saint John, Moncton, and Fredericton put together. Common sense suggests that large quantities of sewage harm the marine environment; thus the efforts by many cities to clean up sewage from their nearby waters. 

Question 13: Will DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency state in at least approximate terms the amount of sewage and pollution produced by salmon cages in Passamaquoddy Bay overall and in Friar’s Bay specifically, comparing that amount with the overall sewage production of a city such as Fredericton or Saint John?

I gather that DFO research by Dr. Barry Hargrave and others has shown that, especially in shallow, enclosed inlets, the Bay of Fundy tides do less flushing than might be expected.  Though the tide goes out on the ebb, some of that same water often comes right back on the flood.  Waste food, feces, and other matter can spread several kilometres. Some materials get spread as dissolved nutrients in the water column; others, as tiny particles, often flocculate into larger particles that settle away from farm sites, often on rocks and beaches. Wastes can fertilize green algae in the intertidal zone, to the detriment of clam beds. Lipid waste and the large amounts of ammonia from the urine of the caged fish can cause odour and make it impossible to walk over slippery rocks. Scientists have found bacterial strains with increased resistance to antibiotics in sediments near the cages, as a result of substances added to fish feed. And less oxygen and more wastes in the water column can cause lower growth rates. 

Question 14: Will DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency state whether the amounts of sewage and pollution generated by salmon cages in Friar’s Bay, and in other bays and coves of that size and smaller, is desirable or undesirable by their policies?

Question 15: If the amount of salmon-farm pollution and sewage in Friar’s Bay is undesirable, will DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency specify and undertake further action, or ask other agencies to undertake action, to reduce the pollution and sewage?

Question 16: To DFO’s knowledge, or the knowledge of any responsible agency, have the salmon sites in Friar’s Bay increased their numbers of fish over the years since they got their original permits, and if so, does that merit any re-evaluation of their environmental effects?

VII. The precautionary approach

This question applies to aquaculture nationwide. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, while holding a large part of the responsibility for researching and regulating aquaculture, has also promoted aquaculture. Canada’s Oceans Act endorses the precautionary approach:  “erring on the side of caution.”

Question 17: In the light of habitat losses, effects on other species, the enormous controversy over sea lice and wild salmon, crossborder transmission of diseases, generation of sewage and pollution, and other such matters, does Environment Canada believe that DFO, in its dual responsibilities of promoting and regulating aquaculture, has consistently and truly lived up to the principle of  “erring on the side of caution”?

VIII. Economic, environmental, and aesthetic values

In Friar’s Bay, home to the Roosevelt Campobello International Park and other tourist-centered operations, it is commonly thought that noisy, unsightly, and trash-generating aquaculture operations, owned elsewhere, have not only displaced traditional commercial fisheries but also damaged the tourist trade (e.g., by discouraging beach walking, sea kayaking, picnicking) while imposing other environmental costs. 

Question 18: In its aquaculture research, whether in general or for particular sites, does DFO or any responsible agency estimate the various economic costs to other businesses, to the environment, and to aesthetic value?

Question 19: If the answer to Question 17 is yes, what are such costs for Passamaquoddy in general and Friar’s Bay in particular?

Noise pollution from salmon cages in Friar’s Bay constitutes a severe problem for residents and tourism operators, and is obviously no help to the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, very close to the cages.
 
Question 20: Have DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency looked at the problem of noise pollution in regard to salmon cages and taken consequent action anywhere in Passamaquoddy?

This concludes my petition. I appreciate the existence of this process.

Yours truly,
           
[Original signed by Joseph Gough]

Joseph Gough

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Minister's Response: Environment Canada

7 October 2010

Mr. Joseph Gough
[personal information withheld at the petitioner’s request]

Dear Mr. Gough:

I am writing in response to your Environmental Petition No. 300, pursuant to section 22 of the Auditor General Act, regarding aquaculture and its effects in Passamaquoddy Bay, New Brunswick. Your petition was received in Environment Canada on June 15, 2010.

Enclosed you will find Environment Canada’s response to your petition. I understand that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Honourable Gail Shea, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, will be responding separately to questions that fall under their respective mandates.

I appreciate this opportunity to respond to your petition, and trust that you will find this information helpful.

Sincerely,

[Original signed by Jim Prentice, Minister of the Environment]

The Honourable Jim Prentice, P.C. Q.C., M.P.

Enclosure

c.c.: The Honourable Gail Shea, P.C., M.P.
The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P.
Mr. Scott Vaughan, Commissioner of the Environment
and Sustainable Development


Environment Canada’s response to Environmental Petition No. 300, regarding aquaculture and its effects in Passamaquoddy Bay, New Brunswick

Introduction

The Government of Canada is responsible for the conservation and protection of Canada’s sea coast and inland fisheries. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has primary responsibility for the administration of the Fisheries Act, which includes responsibility for administration and enforcement of the provisions dealing with physical alteration of fish habitat. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is also the lead federal department responsible for the aquaculture industry.

Environment Canada enforces the pollution prevention provisions of subsection 36(3) of the Fisheries Act. The provisions state that no person shall deposit or permit the deposit of a deleterious substance of any type in water frequented by fish or in any place under any conditions where the deleterious substance or any other deleterious substance that results from the deposit of the deleterious substance may enter any such water, unless authorized by a regulation under the Fisheries Act or another Act of Parliament. Environment Canada’s responsibilities under the Fisheries Act are part of the Department’s broader mandate for the protection of water quality and water resources. This includes responsibilities under the Canada Water Act (such as co‑operation with the provinces and territories in the conservation, development and use of Canada’s water resources, including federal-provincial/territorial agreements, water research and public information) and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (for example, controlling toxic substances under Part 5 and controlling pollution and managing wastes, including nutrients, under Part 7).

Question 4: Will DFO or any responsible agency cite and summarize research, or undertake the necessary research, to show to scientific satisfaction whether and how much the salmon cages are affecting abundance, migration, or life history of other species (including wild salmon) in Passamaquoddy?

With respect to migratory birds, Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service conducts coastal aerial surveys during the non-breeding season (that is, fall, winter and early spring), which is the period when migratory waterfowl and other sea birds are most abundant in the lower Bay of Fundy, including the Passamaquoddy Bay area. These surveys were substantially increased for a period of time in the early part of this decade in order to assess distribution and abundance of migratory birds in the coastal zones.

Data from these surveys indicated some changes in the distribution of migratory birds in the lower Bay of Fundy as a result of aquaculture, but no significant overall reduction in abundance (numbers) of migratory birds using Passamaquoddy Bay during spring or fall migration or during the winter period.

Given that there are changes in bird distribution in the lower Bay of Fundy resulting from aquaculture, there will be population level impacts if aquaculture growth continues to the point where undisturbed suitable migratory bird habitat decreases below the level required to support migrating and wintering populations. Therefore, long-term monitoring of the cumulative effects of aquaculture on migratory bird distribution, abundance and habitat is important.

Question 12: Will DFO or any responsible agency cite the research, or undertake the necessary research, to show whether and how much sea lice associated with salmon cages, or treatment for such sea lice, have harmed other species in Passamaquoddy?

Environment Canada supports programs that generate scientific information to better assess the impacts of pesticides in the environment, and that help to inform and evaluate ways to reduce their environmental impact. The Department currently invests in targeted monitoring and research projects related to the environmental presence and effects of priority pesticides in Canada, to improve the capacity for environmental protection and conservation. At present, within the Passamaquoddy area, Environment Canada is examining plume dispersion information to ensure a better accuracy in modelling the dispersions of pesticides from salmon aquaculture cages, with an additional focus on the potential risks of the sea lice pesticide azamethiphos under short‑term exposures to aquatic test organisms. When identifying future pesticide priorities, we will continue to examine issues related to aquaculture and the treatment of sea lice.

Question 13: Will DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency state in at least approximate terms the amount of sewage and pollution produced by salmon cages in Passamaquoddy Bay overall and Friar’s Bay specifically, comparing that amount with the overall sewage production of a city such as Fredericton or Saint John?

Temperate marine ecosystems are thought to be mainly nitrogen‑limited, meaning that an addition of this element can enhance production of the system. The most important sources of anthropogenic (man‑made) nutrients to coastal systems are wastewater, fertilizers and atmospheric deposition (Nutrients: Canadian Guidance Framework For The Management Of Nearshore Marine Systems, 2007, Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, 14 pp). Aquaculture farms, especially finfish farms where feed is added, can also be important sources.

Organic wastes generated by aquaculture operations are predominantly dissolved nitrogen (mostly ammonia and urea from faeces, urine and excess feed). Approximately 50 percent of the gross energy from feed is retained by the fish, with phosphorus being retained at a higher rate (approximately 50 percent) than nitrogen (between 35 to 45 percent) (Ecosystem Health – Science-based Solutions. Organic Waste and Feed Deposits on Bottom Sediments from Aquaculture Operations: Scientific Assessment and Guidance. Report No. 1-14, 2009, Environment Canada, 68 pp).

Nutrients released from finfish cages into the receiving water are not measured as part of the environmental monitoring program for aquaculture in New Brunswick. Likewise, “pollution” in the form of any chemical release is not measured in the ambient water. Rather, the monitoring program focuses on measuring and reporting sediment indicators of environmental quality at several sampling locations, which provide a yearly snapshot useful to both operators and regulators of the state and health of the ocean floor. These sediment indicators include total sulphide, reduction-oxidation potential (a measure of the capacity for oxidizing organic material in sediment), bacterial cover and out‑gassing, as well as video recordings or qualitative descriptions of the macrofauna on the sea floor.

Environment Canada is not aware of any monitoring or research studies having measured nutrient release associated with finfish farms in the Bay of Fundy. The little empirical data on the chemical composition of fish wastes reported in the scientific literature are derived from studies conducted at freshwater fish farms, or at marine environments abroad and relating to a variety of finfish species being cultured. The Department has developed generic guidance for detecting, monitoring and managing the organic wastes from finfish aquaculture operations, and the report also provides a useful summary of the fate of feed nutrients at fish farms in Canada and abroad (Ecosystem Health – Science-based Solutions. Organic Waste and Feed Deposits on Bottom Sediments from Aquaculture Operations: Scientific Assessment and Guidance. Report No. 1-14, 2009, Environment Canada, 68 pp). Some bioenergetic models have been developed elsewhere, but have not been tested and applied in the field. Aquaculture operators have told the Department that they are very conscious about maximizing the conversion of feed to fish biomass, and minimizing waste and environmental degradation, for obvious reasons: sustainability of the sector and public perception of responsible environmental stewardship.

In conclusion, Environment Canada is unable to compare the amount of nutrients or “pollution” released by aquaculture sites in Passamaquoddy Bay with sewage discharge from New Brunswick municipalities, because of the lack of empirical data at fish farms.

Question 15: If the amount of salmon-farm pollution and sewage in Friar’s Bay is undesirable, will DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency specify and undertake further action, or ask other agencies to undertake action, to reduce the pollution and sewage?

The development of science-based tools and best management practices for sustainable aquaculture is on-going, in a collaborative regulatory process that involves federal and provincial regulators and the industry that has already improved the environmental performance of aquaculture operations.

Provincial regulators from New Brunswick have established the Aquaculture Site Evaluation Committee, which includes the participation of Environment Canada and other federal and provincial agencies. The Committee assesses applications for new aquaculture sites by following a process for reviewing site characteristics, environmental information, and public comments on the proposal, as well as the management practices that are proposed by the proponent. Based on its evaluation of environmental risks associated with a particular proposal, the Committee recommends approval or refusal to New Brunswick’s Minister of Agriculture and Aquaculture.

Another intergovernmental committee, the Aquaculture Site Environmental Review Committee, reviews the environmental performance as well as the production plans for each active site. This committee provides its recommendations to the provincial Minister of Agriculture and Aquaculture regarding approval or refusal of the production plan, which are based on the site’s past and present environmental performance.

The Marine Quality Objective of maintaining well oxygenated sediments beneath aquaculture operations, as well as regularly updated Standard Operating Practices for monitoring the site annually, are clearly outlined in the Government of New Brunswick’s policy documents (available to the public), and repeated in most communications with aquaculture operators.

Question 17: In the light of habitat losses, effects on other species, the enormous controversy over sea lice and wild salmon, crossborder transmission of diseases, generation of sewage and pollution, and other such matters, does Environment Canada believe that DFO, in its dual responsibilities of promoting and regulating aquaculture, has consistently and truly lived up to the principle of “erring on the side of caution”?

Environment Canada works with other federal departments, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in areas of shared jurisdiction, such as matters related to aquaculture and water quality. The Department’s role includes enforcing the acts and regulations for which it is responsible, providing science‑based advice to its partners, and collaborating with partners to better understand and respond to an issue. The management of complex environmental issues, such as those mentioned in this question, requires the input from a wide range of expertise, including biologists, engineers, toxicologists and other environmental scientists, as well as those working in policy and economics. The collaboration of federal and provincial agencies for the management of such issues draws on this wide‑based expertise to inform its decision-making and to protect the public interest based on the best information available. The issues cited in this question have been of concern to Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and provincial agencies for a number of years, and continue to be the focus of scientific and regulatory efforts.

Question 20: Have DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency looked at the problem of noise pollution in regard to salmon cages and taken consequent action anywhere in Passamaquoddy?

Noise is part of the factors that Environment Canada considers when evaluating whether proposed aquaculture activities may disturb or disrupt the activities of sensitive wildlife and migratory birds. The Department routinely advises regulators and proponents that specific mitigation measures should be implemented at a given site to eliminate or minimize disturbances (such as noise). Measures may include, but are not limited to, the use of main navigation channels, avoidance of bird concentrations, the use and maintenance of well‑muffled vessels, reduced vessel speeds in the vicinity of flocks, and avoidance of disruptive activities such as beach clean-ups during sensitive periods (spring and summer).

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Minister's Response: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

12 October 2010

Mr. Joseph Gough
[personal information withheld at the request of the petitioner]

Dear Mr. Gough:

Please find attached a response on behalf of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to environmental petition no. 300, dated May 29, 2010, which you submitted to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your petition and trust that you will find this information helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact Trevor Swerdfager, Director General, Aquaculture Management Directorate (613-949-4919) if you have any further questions.

Sincerely,

[Original signed by Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans]

Gail Shea, P.C., M.P.

Attachment

cc:  The Honourable Jim Prentice, P.C., M.P.
The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P.
The Honourable Peter Van Loan, P.C., M.P.
The Honourable Peter MacKay, P.C., M.P.
Scott Vaughan, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development


Preface

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) works to provide Canadians with sustainable fishery and aquaculture resources. Protection and conservation of fisheries resources and fish habitat is the primary component of fishery and aquaculture management. DFO manages fisheries resources and the impacts of human activities on fish and fish habitat based on sound information and knowledge and on practical and effective policies and practices. Decision making within DFO is guided by the principles of sustainable development, integrated management and the precautionary approach to ensure healthy and productive aquatic ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations.

Q1: Has DFO or any responsible agency quantified, or will it quantify and make known, the amount of bottom habitat lost to salmon cages in Passamaquoddy?

DFO is responsible for administering Section 35 of the Fisheries Act which prohibits the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat. As such, DFO routinely assesses works and undertakings in or around the water, including finfish aquaculture sites, for impacts to fish and fish habitat.

The total area of finfish leases in South West New Brunswick (SWNB) is 1,655 ha (95 leases), which represents about 1.3% of the near shore area of SWNB (defined as the area of the coast from the United States border to just west of Musquash Harbour, from the normal high water level out to the 50 m depth contour).

To assess impacts to fish habitat for marine finfish aquaculture sites in the Passamaquoddy region, DFO has been working collaboratively with the New Brunswick Department of Environment (NBDENV) who has in place an environmental regulatory framework which requires all marine aquaculture sites to conduct monitoring of the seabed to measure the impact of organic loading on benthic habitat. The performance-based standards used in this framework, which classify sites according to average sediment sulfide concentration, were developed taking into account DFO Science advice. (MG-05-04-007)

The NBDENV reports are publicly available at http://www.gnb.ca/
0009/0369/0017/0002-e.asp
. In summary, in 2009 NBDENV identified that 88% of the marine aquaculture sites in SWNB sites had good performance; 11% of sites were trending towards causing adverse environmental affects unless remedial measures were taken; and 1% were causing severe damage to the marine habitat and would be required to undertake a number of remedial measures.

According to the NBDENV reports, no bottom habitat has been lost since no site has remained in severe state from 2002 until now. Only one or two severely impacted sites have been identified each time, site conditions have then improved in subsequent years. Overall site performance has improved over the eight years of record.

DFO research has been conducted on marine finfish farm environmental performance in SWNB. Recent projects under the Aquaculture Collaborative Research Development Program (ACRDP) include:

Environmental decisions support tools for performance-based management of organic waste dispersal and dissolved oxygen depletion associated with salmon farms sites in SWNB (MG-05-04-007).

Review and Analysis of Environmental Performance Data for Salmon Farming industry in South-western New Brunswick (MG-08-01-008).

As part of the ongoing research some lease sites have been mapped and associated footprints have been studied by DFO. Results indicate that, while in a few cases elevated sulphide levels may extend beyond the site boundaries; in most cases the total area of elevated sediment sulphides under farms is smaller than the lease area. More detail can be obtained through DFO Aquaculture Science.

Q2: Has DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency launched or caused to be launched, or will it undertake investigations with a view to launching, legal or other punitive action against salmon-cage operators who have harmed the bottom beneath in Passamaquoddy?

To date, DFO has not launched any legal or other punitive actions against salmon-cage operators in the Passamaquoddy Bay area.

Under the NBDENV Environmental Management Program (EMP) for marine finfish in New Brunswick, aquaculture operators are required to take different levels of remedial action when their sties are trending towards causing adverse environmental affects or are identified as causing severe damage. A review of NBDENV’s annual sites classification reports (http://www.gnb.ca/0009/0369/0017/0002-e.asp) shows that the remedial actions are effective given that site conditions improved overtime. Overall site performance has improved over the eight years of record.

DFO is committed to the protection of fish and fish habitat under the Fisheries Act. If at any time, DFO is of the opinion the Act has been violated, DFO will investigate the situation and take any action deemed to be appropriate.

Q3: Will DFO or any responsible agency make known, or undertake investigation to quantify and make known, the amount and potential present-day value of fishing lost because of displacement by aquaculture in Friar’s Bay, including former herring weirs and other fishing grounds?

Herring weirs are a passive fishery and are much dependant on migration patterns of the herring. Data is not kept on individual weir catches. Although there are presently 223 weir licences in SWNB, the number of licences active in any given year is approximately 50% of that number.

In the early 1980`s, herring weirs were maintained in the area Friar’s Bay area but were subsequently moved. There was a trend at the time to many inshore weirs being relocated to more exposed areas due to improvements in methods of weir construction and anecdotal reports of improved catches in these locations.

The other notable fishery in the area is scallops. Prior to the establishment of an aquaculture site at Friar’s Head (MF-0168), impacts to the fishery were assessed. As such, the proponent was required to adjust the site boundaries inshore to mitigate the proposed sites’ overlap on a productive area of scallop bottom in the Friar’s Head area.

Q4: Will DFO or any responsible agency cite and summarize research, or undertake the necessary research, to show to scientific satisfaction whether and how much the salmon cages are affecting abundance, migration, or life history of other species (including wild salmon) in Passamaquoddy?

The ability to assess the impacts on highly dynamic and migratory species in the wild, in light of many other environmental variables makes the cause-effect evaluation of such broad factors as abundance, migration and life history very difficult. However, research conducted to date in such fields is published in DFO’s State of Knowledge series which can be found at: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas/Csas/status/2005/SAR-AS2005_034_E.pdf. You may also want to review the following publication which investigates a scientifically based program of benthic habitat definition and lobster population sampling to follow lobster habitat use subsequent to aquaculture site establishment. Lawton, P. 2003. Remote sensing and in-situ approaches for definition of sensitive invertebrate fisheries habitat and evaluation of coastal development impacts, pp. 22-23. In Randall, R.G., R.E. Allen, E.M.P. Chadwick, R.R. Claytor, and J. Helbig (editors). 2003. National Science Workshop 2002, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Burlington, Ontario. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2463: xiii+234p (ACRDP MG-01-06-010). http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/272856.pdf

Q5: Will DFO or any responsible agency give an estimate of how many salmon have escaped from cages and to what degree they have established themselves in Bay of Fundy rivers traditionally inhabited by wild salmon?

DFO and the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture and Aquaculture (NBDAA) have developed the Southwest New Brunswick Breach of Containment Governance Document (Governance Document). This document provides a clear and coherent statement of provincial and federal requirements concerning breaches of containment and re-capture of farmed Atlantic salmon in the Bay of Fundy. Additionally, it provides guidance to facilitate the re-capture of fish should a breach event occur.

The Governance Document is meant to compliment the Code of Containment for Culture of Salmon in the Marine Net Pens in New Brunswick (Industry Code) developed by the New Brunswick Salmon Growers Association. The Governance Document, in conjunction with the Industry Code, provides management techniques that incorporate the necessary and reasonable measures to ensure that the risk of stock loss is minimized. In addition, advances in cage technology and management practices have helped the salmon farming industry to minimize the risk of escapes.

DFO tracks the number of farmed fish that are found in four rivers of eastern Maine (United States) and the Magaguadavic River, New Brunswick. Reports indicate that low numbers of farmed salmon have been counted – under 20 fish in each of the five rivers – in recent years. Uncharacteristically, however, there was a large escape of farmed salmon reported in 2005, suspected to be a result of sabotage to some net pens. Over three dozen farmed salmon were recaptured in two rivers during the annual Fall survey. No evidence has been established that any escape farm raised fish have interacted with wild population in the Bay of Fundy.

Table #1: Escapes reported to DFO

2005 (April/May)

New Brunswick

Atlantic Salmon

13,300 2-3 kg fish
13,000 1.5 kg fish

2005 (August)

New Brunswick

Atlantic Salmon

20,000 0.5 kg fish

2005 (November)

New Brunswick

Atlantic Salmon

100,000 market-sized fish

A considerable amount of research has been undertaken to assess the status of farmed salmon escapees in the Bay of Fundy rivers and, as a result, numerous papers have been written concerning such research. References of such papers can be provided upon request.

Q6: Will DFO or any responsible agency confirm or deny, with appropriate explanation, that when salmon-affecting diseases are present in waters in or near the Friar Roads area, the cross-border transmission of those diseases through the water remains a possibility?

Salmon-affecting diseases occur naturally in the ocean environment and can transfer from wild to farmed salmon and vice versa. Cross-border transmission of diseases through the water is a possibility via wild fish and water movements, fishing gear/boats, and pleasure craft. Therefore, a rigorous program based on international standards for fish health requirements and disease reporting has been developed in both Canada and the United States. Both countries are working together to implement and coordinate their respective national aquatic animal health programs.

The Department is intensively researching and monitoring the interactions and effects of wild and farmed salmon and is committed to the sustainable development of aquaculture, the protection of marine ecosystems, and the conservation of wild salmon. Under appropriate management regimes, farmed and wild fish populations can successfully co-exist.

Q7: Setting aside the particular Passamaquoddy situation, could DFO, Environment Canada, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade, or any responsible agency answer the following: in an area where cross-border transmission of aquaculture related diseases present in salmon cages constitutes a threat, could a cage-free buffer zone at the border provide, in principal, an environmentally healthful option for reducing the danger of cross-border transmission of diseases?

Both in principle and practice, a cage-free buffer zone at the border would not provide an environmentally healthful option for reducing the danger of cross-border transmission of diseases as there are too many other water users, fish and water movements to make the removal of cages an effective disease barrier. Factors such as characteristics, distribution, survival, and fate of pathogens involved in the risk of disease transmission caused by a particular pathogen is difficult to assess which leads to a high degree of associated uncertainty. DFO is working with stakeholders to develop a national integrated pest management framework to reduce the risk of disease incidence and transfer. The framework could include, for example, disease surveillance and early detection, use of non chemical methods of reducing disease incidence, timely treatment, and proper site selection and site fallowing and stock management to break pathogen life-cycles.

Q8: If the answer to question 7 is yes or even maybe, will DFO, Environment Canada or any responsible agency investigate the potential benefits of a cage-free buffer zone in Friar Roads?

Nil response as the answer to Question 7 is No.

Q9: Setting aside the particular case of Friar Roads and Passamaquoddy salmon farms, will the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade or any responsible agency clarify whether the following set of circumstances could constitute an offence against, or at least raise questions of compliance with, the Boundary Waters treaty?

A response to this question will be provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT)

Q10: Would Environment Canada or any responsible agency agree that in normal circumstances and putting aside any local particularities, removing salmon cages from close proximity to an international marine border could provide a measure of additional protection against invasive tunicates?

DFO is responsible for the management of invasive aquatic species. Tunicates spread via any substrate (e.g., fishing, recreational, commercial boats, flotsam and jetsam) as well as through water in their planktonic life stage. Therefore, the removal of the salmon cages would not prevent the spread of invasive and, in fact, mobile substrates move invasive much more quickly and widely than fixed gear.

Q11: Will DFO or any responsible agency state the number and potential value of lobsters known to have been lost in Passamaquoddy because of chemicals used at salmon cages?

The only confirmed loss of lobsters was in December 2009. A lobster harvester reported that of 14 crates of lobster stored in the harbour near Fairhaven, Deer Island, 725 pounds of the lobster were dead when hauled out of the water. It has been confirmed that an illegal chemical known as Cypermethrin was deposited in the marine environment and traces of cypermethrin was found in lobsters from Deer Island area. Environment Canada has launched an investigation into this event as Cypermethrin is not authorized for use in Canada in the marine environment. The source of the illegal chemicals is still being investigated.

Q12: Will DFO or any responsible agency cite the research, or undertake the necessary research, to show whether and how much sea lice associated with salmon cages, or treatment for such sea lice, have harmed other species in Passamaquoddy?

DFO fully recognizes the importance of addressing sea lice management and is working closely with other federal agencies and the Province of New Brunswick to establish a formal integrated pest management approach to deal with sea lice.

The Province of New Brunswick has established trigger levels for louse infestations that dictate when treatments should occur. Sea lice are naturally occurring ectoparasites in Passamaquoddy Bay that can be found on wild fish species, such as, other salmonid species, sticklebacks, and herring.

With regards to treatments for sea lice and any potential harm they may cause to other species in the treatment area, a comprehensive review of submitted data is performed by the Health Canada Pest Management Agency (PMRA) to ensure that the proposed pest control products do not exceed acceptable risk to the environment. In the case of aquaculture, this includes consideration of commercially important species. For the sea lice emergency use registrations, additional monitoring programs were required as a condition of registration to ensure that there were no unacceptable adverse effects to the environment, including non-target species.

DFO has provided science advice to PMRA’s environmental risk assessment process such as, recommending sampling schemes to assess effects on non-target species and by providing toxicity data on non-target species, as well as hydrographic data.

DFO continues to undertake research, for example, in 2010-11 under the Program for Aquaculture Regulatory Research (PARR), DFO provided funding of $250K for an evaluation of the toxicity and efficacy of sea lice treatments on target and non-target organisms; and a dye dispersion study to characterize how therapeutants will disperse from cage sites including modeling the transport and dispersal of therapeutants released to the marine environment.

Examples of previous DFO research:

  • Burridge, L.E., Doe, K.G. and Ernst, W. 2010. Pathway of effects of chemical inputs from aquaculture activities in Canada. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Res. Doc. 2010/017. vi + 63 p.
  • Burridge, L.E., Haya, K., and Waddy, S.L. 2008. The effect of repeated exposure to the organophosphate pesticide, azamethiphos, on survival and spawning in female American lobsters (Homarus americanus). Ecotoxicol. Environ. Safety. 69: 411-415.
  • Burridge, L.E. 2003. Chemical use in marine finfish aquaculture in Canada: A review of current practices and possible environmental effects. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2450: [ix + 131 p].
  • Burridge, L.E., S.L. Waddy, K. Haya, M.N. Hamilton, S.M. Mercer and R. Endris. 2002. The effects of pesticides used in aquaculture on American lobsters (abstract), p. 65. In C.V. Eickhoff, C.V., G.C. van Aggelen and A.J. Niimi [eds.]. Proceedings of the 29th Annual Aquatic Toxicity Workshop: Oct 21-23, 2002, Whistler, British Columbia. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2438.
  • Burridge, L.E., and Zitko, V. 2002. Lethality of copper sulfate and copper-treated nets to juvenile haddock, Melanogrammus aeglefinus L. Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 69: 378-383.
  • Burridge, L. E., Haya, K., Waddy, S.L., and Wade, J. 2000. The lethality of anti-sea lice formulations Salmosan® (azamethiphos) and Excis® (cypermethrin) to stage IV and adult lobsters (Homarus americanus) during repeated short-term exposures. Aquaculture. 182: 27 – 35.
  • Burridge, L.E., Doe, K., Haya, K., Jackman, P.M., Lindsay, G., and Zitko, V. 1999. Chemical analysis and toxicity tests on sediments under salmon net pens in the Bay of Fundy. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2291: iii + 39 p.

Burridge, L.E. and K.Haya. 1993. The lethality of ivermectin, a potential agent of the treatment of salmonids against sea lice to shrimp, Crangon septemspinosa. Aquaculture 117:9-14.

Chou, C.L., K. Haya, L.A. Paon, L. Burridge, and J.D. Moffatt. 2002. Aquaculture-related trace metals in sediments and lobsters and relevance to environmental monitoring program ratings (EMP) for near-field effects. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 44 (11): 1259-1269.

Ernst, W, P. Jackman, K. Doe, F. Page, G. Julien, K. MacKay, and T. Sutherland. 2001 Dispersion and toxicity to non-target aquatic organisms of pesticides used to treat sea lice on salmon in net pen enclosures. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 42:433-444.

Hargrave [ed.]. Environmental Studies for Sustainable Aquaculture (ESSA): 2002 workshop report. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2411: v + 117 p.

Haya, K., Burridge, L.E., Davies, I.M., and Ervik, A. 2005. A review and assessment of environmental risk of chemicals used for the treatment of sea lice infestations of cultured salmon. Environ. Chem. 5(M): 305 – 340.

  • Waddy, S.L., Burridge, L.E., Hamilton, M.N., Mercer, S.M, Aiken, D.E., and Haya, K. 2002. Emamectin benzoate induces molting in American Lobster, Homarus americanus. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 59: 1096-1099.
  • Waddy, S.L., Merritt V.A., Hamilton-Gibson, M.N., Aiken,D.E., and Burridge, L.E. 2007. Relationship between dose of emamectin benzoate and molting response of ovigerous American lobsters (Homarus americanus). Ecotoxicol. Environ. Safety67: 95-99.

Q13: Will DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency state in at least approximate terms the amount of sewage and pollution produced by salmon cages in Passamaquoddy Bay overall and Friar’s Bay specifically, comparing that amount with the overall sewage production of a city such as Fredericton or Saint John?

The response to Question 1 outlines the management of organic loading from marine aquaculture farms. The deposit of this organic material is not equal to human sewage in terms of human health issues as the pathogens from aquaculture fish reared in SWNB are not transferable to humans.

Q14: Will DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency state whether the amount of sewage and pollution by salmon cages in Friar’s Bay, and in other bays and coves of that size and smaller, is desirable or undesirable by their policies?

Please see the responses to Questions 1 and 13.

Q15: If the amount of salmon-farm pollution and sewage in Friar’s Bay is undesirable, will DFO, Environment Canada, or any responsible agency specify and undertake further action, or ask other agencies to undertake action, to reduce the pollution and sewage?

Please see the responses to Question 1, 2 and 13.

Q16: To DFO’s knowledge, or the knowledge of any responsible agency, have the salmon sites in Friar’s Bay increased their numbers of fish over the years since they got their original permits, and if so, does that merit any re-evaluation of their environmental effects?

The Province is the responsible authority for permitting increased production numbers. When reviewing such applications, the Province re-evaluates environmental impacts and consults with DFO on impacts to the fish habitat. In addition, as indicated in the responses to Questions 1 and 2, there are ongoing benthic monitoring programs required at all sites annually.

Q17: In the light of habitat losses, effects on other species, the enormous controversy over sea lice and wild salmon, cross border transmission of diseases, generation of sewage and pollution, and other such matters, does Environment Canada believe that DFO, in its dual responsibilities of promoting and regulating aquaculture, has consistently and truly lived up to the principle of “erring on the side of caution”?

A response to this question will be provided by the Environment Canada (EC)

Q18: In its aquaculture research, whether in general or for particular sites, does DFO or any responsible agency estimate the various economic costs to other businesses, to the environment, and to aesthetic value?

Most recently, DFO has completed a strategic environmental assessment for the proposed Pacific Aquaculture Regulations. While this document was developed related to aquaculture in British Columbia, much of the analyses on the environmental effects are relevant to aquaculture in general in Canada (http://canadagazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2010/2010-07-10/html/reg2-eng.html#rias).

Land use impacts and aesthetic value are outside the DFO’s mandate and are managed by the Crown leasing authority, which in the waters of SWNB is the Province of New Brunswick.

Q19: If the answer to Question 17 is yes, what are such costs of Passamaquoddy in general and Friar’s Bay in particular?

There is no DFO information specific to Passamaquoddy although as mentioned in the response to Question 3, the Province of New Brunswick considered fisheries impacts in its approval of the final location of an aquaculture site in Friar’s Bay.

Q20: Have DFO, Environment Canada or any responsible agency looked at the problem of noise pollution in regard to salmon cages and taken consequent action anywhere in Passamaquoddy?

The NBDENV issues Approvals to Operate which deals with noise control among other matters.

A peer reviewed report that examined the effects of noise from aquaculture sites has been published as a DFO Science Advisory Report (http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/publications/sar-as/2009/2009_071-eng.htm).

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Minister's Response: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada

21 September 2010

Mr. Joseph Gough
[personal information withheld at the petitioner’s request]

Dear Mr. Gough:

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Canada, Mr. Scott Vaughan, forwarded to me on June 15, 2010, a copy of your petition concerning aquaculture and its effects in Passamaquoddy Bay, New Brunswick: Environmental Petition No. 300.

Please find enclosed Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s response to question 9 of your petition pertaining to the Boundary Waters Treaty.
           
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your petition. I trust that you will find the information provided useful.

Sincerely,

[Original signed by Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs]

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P.

Enclosure

c.c. The Honourable Jim Prentice, P.C., M.P., Minister of the Environment
The Honourable Gail Shea, P.C., M.P., Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
Mr. Scott Vaughan


Q9: Setting aside the particular case of Friar Roads and Passamaquoddy salmon farms, will the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade or any responsible agency clarify whether the following set of circumstances could constitute an offence against, or at least raise questions of compliance with, the Boundary Waters Treaty? The posited set of circumstances is: a salmon farm in close proximity to a border well known for strong tides and tidal mixing knowingly harbours a disease that spreads by means of those tides, and could have been expected to spread, to caged salmon on the other side of the border.

The anti-pollution obligations of the Boundary Waters Treatyare contained in Article IV, paragraph 2, which apply to “boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary.” The Preliminary Article of the Boundary Waters Treaty defines “boundary waters” as “the waters of the lakes and rivers and connecting waterways, or the portions thereof, along which the international boundary between the United States and the Dominion of Canada passes….” The definition of “boundary waters” does not include those waters located offshore which are properly described as oceanic bays and straits through which the boundary between Canada and the United States also passes, such as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Boundary Bay off the west coast of Canada as well as the Bay of Fundy and Passamaquoddy Bay off the east coast.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is not able to comment as to whether the circumstances stated in question 9 could raise questions of compliance with the Boundary Waters Treatyor constitute an offence under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act (the enabling legislation of the treaty) due to the hypothetical nature of the question. However, in terms of the specific case mentioned in the petition, the only “boundary water” in that region is that part of the St. Croix River through which the boundary passes to that point where the St. Croix River ends as it enters Passamaquoddy Bay. Therefore, it is not possible to apply the Boundary Waters Treaty to activities in Passamaquoddy Bay itself.