Joyce Nelson investigates the Harper government's proposed regulatory changes to the Fisheries Act and its impacts on the environment and health in the two-part series on the fish-farm industry.
Since 2011, Canada and the U.S. have embarked upon a little-known but massive process of coordinating regulations across some 26 sectors of the economy, including aquaculture. The Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) has received 170 submissions from individuals, organizations and businesses over those years, and has been actively aligning regulatory policy under the auspices of Canada's Privy Council Office and the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
An RCC summary of the recommendations from organizations and businesses includes this passage:
"Policy and regulations should be guided by science-based decision making. In the absence of compelling scientific reasons for maintaining [national] differences, alignment of regulations should be the rule, especially when it could save money and enhance access to products."
As one critic has commented, the RCC's latest "Joint Forward Plan," released in August 2014, "sets the stage for regulatory departments and agencies in both countries to essentially become permanent bedfellows."
The Joint Forward Plan states that "Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency worked on aligning product reviews and risk assessment methodologies" in order to "reduce administrative burden on industry and provide simultaneous product access" to users.
Regarding fish farms, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is collaborating with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The RCC's Joint Forward Plan states that DFO and NOAA "will undertake greater cooperation in environmental management of the aquaculture sector and identify potential areas for regulatory alignment," including "aquaculture siting decisions, area management approaches and environmental monitoring and assessment tools."
A February 2015 RCC "News Update" reported that DFO and NOAA "have shown strong early commitment to cooperating on environmental management of the aquaculture sector under the Joint Forward Plan. Officials from both countries met with stakeholders in Ottawa December 8-9, 2014, to discuss the development and implementation of their RPS [Regulatory Partnership Statement] and work plan."
The identities of the "stakeholders" at this December meeting have not been released. The RCC did not respond to my request for information. I was hoping to determine whether or not those stakeholders included representatives from CropLife Canada -- the lobby group which represents not only the pesticide industry but also the makers of genetically-modified (GM) soy -- the latest ingredient added to fish-farm feed. CropLife Canada made submissions to the RCC regarding regulatory coordination.
The newest ingredient
The U.S. is moving quickly to institute its national plan for aquaculture, starting with open-net pen fish-farms in the Gulf of Mexico. Dutch and Norwegian multinationals are planning to partner with U.S. investors, although they are facing opposition from wild fisheries proponents in that region (devastated by BP's 2010 oil spill).
Nonetheless, a variety of "venture capitalists," "risk-takers," "oil-patch independents" and others are eagerly jumping into the U.S. fish-farm business, along with "big agribusiness companies" participating "as feed suppliers."
Much of the fish feed now used in open-net pens includes GM soy -- an ingredient that Monsanto and Cargill (which has an aquaculture feed division) have been pushing since 2012.
By December 2014, there were at least 19 varieties of fish feed containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Ironically, Norway has recently decided to stop approving GM feed for fish farms. The Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board and the Norwegian Food Safety Authority have stated that GMOs in aquaculture could lead to an environmental disaster.
As Food & Water Watch reported in its 2012 report, 'Factory-Fed Fish: How the Soy Industry Is Expanding into the Sea', GM soy is not a natural food for fish and by eating it, farmed fish don't get necessary nutrients and they excrete more waste, which pollutes the ocean floor.
As well, excess GM feed spills into the open ocean, causing unknown dangers to wild marine life. "Our seas are not Roundup ready," said executive director Wenonah Hauter at the time of the report's release.
According to the website farmedanddangerous.org, both GM soy and GM canola are fed to farmed salmon. GM fish-feed could be considered a "deleterious substance" added to waters frequented by fish, although it is not specifically mentioned in the Feb. 17 Open Letter to Prime Minister Harper signed by 120 Canada scientists and others.
Since November 2013, the pesticide/GMO lobby group CropLife Canada has been headed up by Ted Menzies as the new president and CEO. Menzies resigned as an Alberta MP (and former Harper Cabinet member) to head the lobby group a year after the federally mandated Cohen Commission released its report on threats to wild salmon.
Among its 75 recommendations, the Cohen Commission urged that the Harper government eliminate DFO's conflict of interest in its dual roles of promoting fish farming while protecting wild salmon. Now we have the DFO thoroughly involved in "harmonizing" regulations for the aquaculture industry in Canada and the U.S.
The 120 signatories to the Open Letter warn Harper that "the proposed regulatory changes will give the aquaculture industry special treatment under the Fisheries Act. In our opinion, to exempt one industry from environmental laws that will prejudice others can only increase conflicts among co-users of the aquatic environment."
Popular B.C. blogger and fish farm expert DC Reid has summarized the attitude of many: "Fish farms need to be on land or go back to Norway."
Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelancer writer/researcher and the author of five books.
Photo: flickr/ Mike Beauregard