Provincial policy objectives for managing effects of cage aquaculture operations on the quality of water and sediment in Ontario’s waters

ERO number
012-7186
Notice type
Policy
Posted by
Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Notice stage
Decision
Decision posted
Comment period
March 31, 2016 - June 29, 2016 (90 days) Closed
Last updated

This consultation was open from:
March 31, 2016
to June 29, 2016

Decision summary

We have finalized the policy objectives to help ensure the long-term environmental sustainability of commercial-scale cage aquaculture operations (culture of fish in net cages floating in open waters) in the province.

Decision details

We have finalized the Provincial Policy Objectives for Managing Effects of Cage Aquaculture Operations on the Quality of Water and Sediment in Ontario’s Waters (policy paper) developed to work together with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s (MNRF) Application Guidelines for Cage Aquaculture Facilities (Application Guidelines). In particular, MECP's policy paper supports environmental requirements in the MNRF's Application Guidelines and in cage aquaculture licences issued by MNRF.

In finalizing the policy paper, MECP's considered comments received through the registry posting, as well as engagement sessions with Indigenous communities, non-governmental organizations and the aquaculture industry. As a result, the final policy paper includes changes that clarify and strengthen the policy with respect to:

  • the need to consider any future lake-wide or local nutrient loading targets that may be established or adopted by the Province
  • demonstrating containment of effects within the permitted area, and conformance to specific numeric water quality objectives
  • meeting the non-toxic sediment objective through ensuring on-going waste assimilation

Comments received

Through the registry

7

By email

11

By mail

0
View comments submitted through the registry

Effects of consultation

While comments received were generally supportive of the draft policy paper, a number of these also focussed on the need to strengthen or clarify policy objectives respecting expansion of cage aquaculture operations, alternatives to cage aquaculture, waste assimilation and cumulative effects.

In addition, some of these comments related to the process of application review and approval of cage aquaculture licences, and associated matters, including transparency, public consultation and Indigenous community engagement. These comments were considered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in finalizing the Application Guidelines posted on the Environmental Registry in September 2017 (see ER # 012-5045).

The following is a summary of comments received on the draft policy paper and how they were addressed in the final policy paper, where applicable.

Comment Theme: Alternatives to Cage Aquaculture

Some comments expressed opposition to cage aquaculture operations, citing environmental and fisheries risks and concerns, and the need for consideration of land-based alternatives or a moratorium on new or expanded cage aquaculture operations.

Response

We recognize that there are alternatives to cage aquaculture.  However, as stated in the policy paper, land-based aquaculture operations, as well as floating-tank closed-containment systems with collect-and-treat technology, are subject to existing policies respecting the approval of sewage works, and are therefore not addressed in this policy paper.

Comment Theme: Waste Assimilation, Cumulative Effect and Operational Boundary

Response

Clarification was requested regarding the concept of waste assimilation and compliance with the non-toxic sediment objective, containment of effects within the permitted area (operational boundary), and consideration of cumulative effects on a lake-wide basis. The final policy paper includes new language to clarify the concept of waste assimilation and compliance with the non-toxic sediment objective, requirement for containment of effects within the permitted area and compliance with specific water quality objectives, and consideration of any future lake-wide or local nutrient loading targets that may be established or adopted by the Province.

Comment Theme: Public Consultation, Engagement and Transparency in Licensing of Operation

Response

Several comments submitted to the MECP expressed a desire for more public consultation and engagement respecting proposals for new and expanding operations, including the Class EA process, and public transparency respecting the requirements included in individual aquaculture licences. These comments, respecting the process of application review and approval of cage aquaculture licences and matters related to it, were considered by the MNRF in finalizing the Application Guidelines, as noted above.

Comment Theme: Indigenous Community Engagement

Response

Several comments submitted to the MECP expressed a desire for direct engagement of First Nations and Métis communities in the review of proposals for new and expanding cage aquaculture operations. As above, these comments were also considered by the MNRF in finalizing the Application Guidelines.

Supporting materials

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Get in touch with the office listed below to find out if materials are available.

Great Lakes and Inland Waters Branch
Address

40 St. Clair Avenue West
10th floor
Toronto, ON
M4V 1M2
Canada

Office phone number

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Original proposal

ERO number
012-7186
Notice type
Policy
Posted by
Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change
Proposal posted

Comment period

March 31, 2016 - June 29, 2016 (90 days)

Proposal details

Updates

Due to public interest, MOECC has extended the comment period for this proposal.

Description of policy

The draft Provincial Policy Objectives for Managing Effects of Cage Aquaculture Operations on the Quality of Water and Sediment in Ontario’s Waters (draft Policy Paper) protects Ontario’s "waters" (which includes their sediments) by setting out key water and sediment quality policy objectives for the long-term environmental sustainability of commercial-scale cage aquaculture operations in Ontario.

Cage aquaculture is the commercial culture of fish in net cages floating in open waters. These facilities are subject to aquaculture licence requirements under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (FWCA) administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). The draft Policy Paper works together with MNRF’s draft Application Guidelines for Cage Aquaculture Facilities (Application Guidelines) to support environmental requirements in cage aquaculture licences.

The proposed water and sediment quality policy objectives apply to existing cage aquaculture operations, as well as proposed expansions and new operations where the proposed operation’s annual feed allocation does not exceed 2,500 tonnes (metric) of low phosphorus feed, which is the maximum feed allocation of the largest existing cage operation. These proposed policy objectives are not intended to apply to operations larger than existing operations.

As larger operations have the potential to pose higher environmental risks, the approach for larger new and expanded cage aquaculture operations (proposed feed allocation greater than 2,500 tonnes) will require further analysis by the Province and may include the consideration of a new regulatory framework and/or new processes. In the interim, should a larger new or expanding operation begin the cage aquaculture licence application process, the proposed environmental policy objectives outlined in the draft Policy Paper would serve as the minimum objectives, with site and proposal-specific requirements added as appropriate.

The key water and sediment quality policy objectives being proposed are that cage aquaculture operations should be situated, sized, and managed so that:

  • the resulting release of nutrients and oxygen-consuming substances, and accumulation of organically enriched waste at the lakebed, do not exceed the local assimilative capacity of the receiving water body and conform to the provincial waste assimilation and non-toxic sediment objectives; and
  • any water and sediment quality effects of the operation are contained within the permitted area (e.g., the Crown land tenure set in a permit or lease under the Public Lands Act, or the area specified in conditions of the aquaculture licence) to minimize any local or lake-wide cumulative effects.

As part of the cage aquaculture application process set out in the draft Application Guidelines, proponents of new operations and expansions of existing cage aquaculture operations are required to undertake baseline monitoring of the proposed site(s) and model anticipated impact of the proposed operation(s). This monitoring and modelling will assist in determining whether or not the proposed operations, when properly managed, would conform to the water and sediment quality objectives, and any nutrient loading targets established by the Province.

Once cage aquaculture licences are issued, operators are required to undertake ongoing water and sediment monitoring and reporting to ensure that the water and sediment quality objectives are being met. The Province is committed to transparency and the MOECC will make water and sediment quality monitoring data publicly available in a manner consistent with the Province’s Open Data practices.

The draft Policy Paper does not apply to land-based aquaculture operations with effluent discharge to a water body or floating-tank closed-containment systems with collect-and-treat technology since these types of operations are subject to MOECC’s sewage works approval requirements under the OWRA.

Purpose of policy

The draft Policy Paper helps protect Ontario’s waters by setting out provincial water and sediment quality policy objectives for the long-term environmental sustainability of commercial-scale cage aquaculture operations in Ontario. The draft Policy Paper supports environmental requirements in cage aquaculture licences issued by the MNRF under the FWCA, and MNRF’s draft Application Guidelines.

The draft MNRF Application Guidelines, separately posted on the Environmental Registry by the MNRF, outline the application submission requirements, public and Aboriginal consultation and notification requirements., and the process of review and decision-making by provincial and federal agencies for the periodic re-issuance of licences for existing operations and the issuance of licences for new and expanding operations. This is to ensure that licensed cage aquaculture operations are properly situated, sized, and managed to protect water and sediment quality and ensure their environmental sustainability

Other information

The MNRF is the lead provincial agency with respect to the regulation of cage aquaculture operations through its authority to issue aquaculture licences under the FWCA, and the authority to manage the use of Crown lands under the Public Lands Act (PLA), including the issuance of Crown land tenure permits or leases. To manage cage aquaculture impacts on water quality and sediments, the MOECC follows a collaborative approach with the MNRF.

A 2003-2005 EBR review concluded that new policies and procedures were required for the oversight of cage aquaculture in Ontario, including:

  • improved transparency and certainty for operators through coordinated application guidance for new operations; and
  • policies that protect water and sediment quality to support conditions in MNRF issued aquaculture licences.

The draft Policy Paper takes into consideration the results of public engagement undertaken through the 2009 Environmental Registry posting of MOECC’s Sediment and Water Quality Discussion Papers for Open Cage Aquaculture in Ontario. The 2009 Discussion Papers were developed in support of MNRF’s 2009 Environmental Registry posting of the draft Application Guidelines for Cage Aquaculture.

MNRF subsequently led a 2010-2014 Collaborative Cage Aquaculture Sediment Policy Development Process, including participation of First Nations, non-governmental organizations, aquaculture operators, provincial ministries (MNRF; MOECC; OMAFRA) and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans), established to recommend sediment quality objectives and a monitoring and assessment framework. The resulting recommendations have formed the basis of the proposed sediment policy objectives in the current draft Policy Paper.

The proposed cage aquaculture water and sediment quality policy objectives are consistent with existing MOECC policies related to water and sediment quality, including:

  • Water Management Policies, Guidelines, Provincial Water Quality Objectives;
  • Procedure B-1-5 Deriving Receiving-Water Based, Point-Source Effluent Requirements for Ontario Waters; and
  • Guidelines for Identifying, Assessing and Managing Contaminated Sediments in Ontario: An Integrated Approach.

Public consultation

This proposal was posted for a 90 day public review and comment period starting March 31, 2016. Comments were to be received by June 29, 2016.

All comments received during the comment period are being considered as part of the decision-making process by the Ministry.

Please Note: All comments and submissions received have become part of the public record.

Other public consultation opportunities

MNRF is also concurrently seeking public input on the draft Application Guidelines for Cage Aquaculture Facilities under EBR#: 012-5045

Supporting materials

View materials in person

Some supporting materials may not be available online. If this is the case, you can request to view the materials in person.

Get in touch with the office listed below to find out if materials are available.

Great Lakes Office
Address

40 St Clair Avenue West
Floor 10
Toronto, ON
M4V1M2
Canada

Office phone number

Comment

Commenting is now closed.

This consultation was open from March 31, 2016
to June 29, 2016

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