IN THE NEWS ~ Aquaculture ruling won't affect N.B. for now; Ottawa ordered to take over regulation of B.C. fish farms

PUBLICATION: Times & Transcript (Moncton)
DATE: 2009.02.13
SECTION: News;News
BYLINE: Jesse Robichaud Times & Transcript Staff
COPYRIGHT: © 2009 Times & Transcript (Moncton)
Aquaculture ruling won't affect N.B. for now; Ottawa ordered to take over regulation of B.C. fish farms
It is business as usual, at least for now, for New Brunswick's aquaculture industry after a British Columbia court ordered Ottawa to take over regulation of that province's industry.

"Obviously, we watch this with interest, but we are not deviating from our plans to be the keeper of the industry," said Agriculture and Aquaculture spokesman Paul Harpelle, responding to the decision that was rendered this week.

Harpelle said the provincial and the federal departments and agencies work together on a number of committees and mechanisms that oversee the aquaculture industry, but the ultimate authority resides with the province.

He said the current legislation and authority of the province will not change based on the decision in British Columbia.

"I think we are a long way away from thinking through that scenario," said Harpelle, who noted that the New Brunswick Department of Justice is currently preparing its own interpretation of the decision rendered in the British Columbia Supreme Court.

"If there was ever any move in that direction, there would have to be a lot of dialogue before that could ever take place."

A spokeswoman for New Brunswick's biggest aquaculture company, Cook Aquaculture, said industry doesn't see the benefit of handing all the regulatory responsibilities to Ottawa.

Nell Halse said the shared responsibilities of federal and provincial departments and agencies may not be perfect, but she fails to understand how the withdrawal of one level of government would improve the situation.

"If you wanted to break all that apart, it is not clear how that would be progress for us," said Halse.

"On the East Coast, our industry here is very heavily regulated by the federal and provincial government. We cannot move fish from our hatcheries to our farms without federal permits."

Although the industry would like to see regulations and oversight mechanisms streamlined, she said both levels of government contribute to a strong regulatory system.

"It is certainly not one level of government regulating us," said Halse.

Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea was not available for comment yesterday, but earlier in the week she fended off questions from an NDP MP from B.C. in the Commons.

Asked why the federal government hasn't put forward an action plan on how it will deal with the decision, Shea indicated that Ottawa is in no hurry to overhaul the status quo. "We do have a one-year window to work with the province of B.C. and we will be doing that," said Shea.

"In the meantime, however, we will continue to jointly manage the aquaculture industry through the application of both federal and provincial laws."
The British Columbia MP, Peter Julian, called that response "a load of halibut."

Justice Christopher Hinkson's ruling on Monday gives Ottawa 12 months to bring in new legislation so fish farms can be licensed by the federal Fisheries Department.

In British Columbia, fish farms are licensed by the provincial Agriculture Ministry. In N.B., they're regulated by the Department of Agriculture and Aquaculture.

n With files from The Canadian Press.