Government seeks public input on proposed cage aquaculture guideline changes

Georgian Bay Association representative voices opposition to expansion of cage aquaculture on Great Lakes

MANITOULIN—The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) held a stakeholders consultation session on Manitoulin last week for proposed changes to the MNRF Cage Aquaculture Application Guidelines and the MOECC draft Provincial Policy/Objectives for Managing Effects of Cage Aquaculture Operations on the Quality of Water and Sediment in Ontario’s waters. Despite the MNRF insisting that the proposed application changes will encourage increased transparency, a representative of the Georgian Bay Association (GBA), Gerry Quinn, says that the government should be restricting future growth of the industry, not encouraging it.

“I am not in a position to support this,” said Mr. Quinn of the Cage Aquaculture policy proposals. “I’m not proposing the closure of the current aquaculture facilities, but I am opposing expansion. This (aquaculture) is a private, for profit industry, using the public resources and dumping phosphorus in our lakes.”

Mary Duda, MNRF aquatic ecologist with the Fisheries Section, began the stakeholders session noting how comments made during the session would be used in collaboration with input from other stakeholder sessions (including a First Nation session held on Manitoulin earlier last week, an industry meeting and a future Metis meeting) toward the final draft of the policy.

Ms. Duda began by walking the meeting through a presentation on the background of cage aquaculture policy in Ontario.

“The province previously engaged communities on the 2007 and 2009 policy proposals and would like to continue the dialogue with respect to the MNRF’s draft application guide for cage aquaculture operation applications and the MOECC’s water sediment quality policy objectives for the long-term environmental sustainability of commercial-scale cage aquaculture operations in Ontario,” said Ms. Duda.

She also noted how issues with the old policy had been addressed in the new guide. Ms. Duda said one of the issues with the old guide was the lack of clear direction regarding the evaluation of potential biological impacts of operations, which had been addressed through the addition of clear biological decision points of review and identifying how the information should be collected and submitted. She said that the old guide was criticized for being confusing, complex and redundant of other legislation, regulations and policies, and this had been rectified through streamlining the document and providing the most relevant information and references.”

“There were concerns relating to fish escapes and ineligibility criteria from several First Nation communities, ie. ecological or environmental characteristics to refuse an application,” explained Ms. Duda. “There has been additional clarity on site eligibility criteria to ensure desired ecological outcomes and additional requirements regarding fish containment.”

The new guide was also redirected to focus on the actual application requirements and review process and no longer internal processes to address the old issue of the guide being a lengthy and cumbersome document.

As well, the new application preparation, review and approval process is driven by application ‘type,’ opposed to the old application that treated all applications the same resulting in additional information requirement burdens and prolonged review timelines for renewals.

Ms. Duda explained that the new guide will also include new ecological assessments for fisheries “to determine the potential impacts of new or expanding operations on fish and fish habitat,” for water quality “to ensure that the release of waste materials associated with the operation does  not result in lowering dissolved oxygen concentrations within the local receiving water body below levels that are essential for healthy functioning of all forms of local aquatic life throughout its aquatic life cycles, and for sediment quality “to ensure the release of waste materials associated with the operation does not result in the degradation of sediment quality conditions above the levels that are toxic to benthic aquatic life or exceed the capacity of the local environment to maintain non-toxic sediment through ongoing waste assimilation.”

Ms. Duda also explained that there will be new management and monitoring plans. “Prior to the issuance of the aquaculture licence the applicant will be asking to submit a number of management and monitoring plans which, upon approval, will be placed as conditions on the aquaculture licence,” she said.

Mr. Quinn commented that any monitoring should be done by a third party.

“Self monitoring for this industry is like putting a poor man in charge of finances,” said Mr. Quinn.

He also commented that, generally, the outcome of aquaculture was not worth the risk according to public studies done in Michigan concerning two new proposed aquaculture facilities.

“The eight states that border the Great Lakes and Quebec all don’t allow open net aquaculture—only Ontario,” said Mr. Quinn. “The risk of damaging the Great Lakes just isn’t worth it.”

Mr. Quinn noted that he didn’t feel that the aquaculture industry was sustainable, based on the public finances of industry leaders.

Jason Borwick with the MNRF assured Mr. Quinn that all his comments would be recorded and noted.

Mirek Tybinkowaski, engineering specialist with the MOECC, led the next portion of the session, presenting the provincial policy objectives for managing effects of cage aquaculture operations on the quality of water and sediment in Ontario’s waters.

Mr. Tybinkowaski’s presentation of the policy explained that cage aquaculture “is a unique industry because it releases untreated waste (fish feces and uneaten feed) directly into open waters but is not subject to the sewage works approval requirements under the Ontario Water Resources Act administered by the MOECC. For this reason, the province has identified key water and sediment quality policy objectives to ensure environmental sustainability of cage aquaculture operations in Ontario’s waters.”

“The purpose of the document is to help ensure the protection of Ontario’s waters by setting out water and sediment quality policy objectives for long-term environmental sustainability of commercial-scale cage aquaculture operations in Ontario,” states the policy. “It also supports environmental requirements in cage aquaculture issued by the MNRF under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act and the MNRF’s draft Application Guidelines for Cage Aquaculture Facilities.”

Mr. Quinn expressed that he was concerned with the use of antibiotics in aquaculture and noted that he was a resident of McGregor Bay and that he and many of his neighbours drink the water.

A representative of the MNRF explained that it was a condition of the aquaculture licence that if antibiotics are used they must report it. The MNRF also said that none of the aquaculture farms in the North Channel used antibiotics at their facility last year.

At the end of the meeting, representatives from both ministries encouraged anyone with comments regarding the policies to submit them through the Environmental Registry.

The proposed policy, Application Guidelines for Cage Aquaculture Facilities, can be reviewed through the Environmental Registry, EBR number 012-5045, with comments being accepted on the policy until June 30. The Provincial Policy Objectives for Managing Effects of Cage Aquaculture Operations on the Quality of Water and Sediment in Ontario’s Waters can be reviewed through the Environmental Registry, EBR number 012-7186, with comments being accepted on the policy until June 29.