Perspectives on Aquaculture in Georgian Bay

Canadians feel much more negative towards aquaculture than a lot of the world. And yet, aquaculture could be a great source of protein for the expected 9 billion in global population by 2050. Canadians' concerns with net-pen aquaculture include: water quality, and wild fish impacts such as food or waste subsidies to wild stocks, escapee effects, spread of pathogens, and pharmaceutical use (Yan 2005). At the H2O 2018 event at Ryerson, GBF and the GBA had several speakers participated in a panel discussion to probe this topic, and the videos are available for you below.

“We have to figure out what management practices are best. There are potential negative impacts of freshwater aquaculture, there are potential positive impacts of freshwater aquaculture, and what we want to do is manage the industry in such a way as to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives.” Dr. Neil Rooney, a panelist.
Cage Aquaculture panel discusses impacts in Georgian Bay
The intent of the Cage Aquaculture Panel was to provide an overview of the known science and the global and local perspectives, as well as exploring positions of the Georgian Bay Association and the Ontario Aquaculture Industry. Every presenter shared a great desire for a truly sustainable industry and a great love for Georgian Bay. GBF and the GBA thank everyone who participated..

In this writer’s view, the biggest differences in positioning between the members of the panel, were different were different ways to cautiously approach mitigating risk to the environment. GBF invites you to a greater understanding of the impacts and risks by putting yourself in each of these organization’s ‘shoes’ and watching their video presentations and their responses to audience questions. Please note that each panelist's answers are their own and or their respective organization. Thank you to Bert Liverance for videotaping and putting these videos together

Find links to the specific videos below:

Dr. Neil Rooney, Professor School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph

Dr. Rooney starts his presentation by providing a global and local assessment of aquaculture: where it is growing and why. It is a source of protein for a global population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. A study is cited that shows that much of the world views aquaculture positively in terms of sustainability and food security. Conversely, Canada has the most negative sentiments towards aquaculture. Canadians’ concerns with aquaculture include: water quality and wild fish impacts including food or waste subsidies to wild stocks, escapee effects, spread of pathogens, and pharmaceutical use (Yan 2005).

Given the concerns, what recent science is available to us on freshwater that can help us figure out what management practices are best for aquaculture? There is some completed and ongoing research into examining a key concern for regulators around the phosphorus inputs from net-pen aquaculture. There is a risk that the waste and feed from fish farming could contribute too much phosphorus and lead to poor water quality as famously demonstrated in the 1970's in the Experimental Lakes area. Dr. Rooney took us through some 2005 research (Podemski et. Al.) that simulated a net-pen aquaculture operation and its organic phosphorus subsidies (more similar to fish food than the inorganic 1970s phosphorus experiment). The 2005 experiment did not show the soupy green water quality results of the 1973 experiment, and seemed to benefit some open water fish like Lake Trout.
Length: 21 minutes

Dr. Rooney then explains the steps in research that are being undertaken and analyzed by U of G with GBF support in an actual net-pen operation in Georgian Bay to determine if those same 2005 results can be found; noting that there is ongoing research to test multiple sites in Georgian Bay to understand variability. Ultimately, results could show negative, neutral, or positive impacts to nutrient subsidies from net-pen aquaculture, or vary depending on site location and operation.

To find out more:

Jim Bolton from the Aquaculture Committee and Executive Director Rupert Kindersley

Mr. Bolton brings insight and expertise as an environmental engineer on risks from net-pen aquaculture particularly as it relates to the phosphorus cycle. The GBA aquaculture committee has been examining this issue for more than 15 years. On net pen aquaculture, the committee believes that there is questionable application of the precautionary principle. “There is a rush to do it without asking should we do it,” says Bolton.

The committee takes issue with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) classifying this industry as having ‘predictable environmental effects that can be readily managed. (Ontario.ca)’ Environmental effects include use of public waters for waste dilution and future accumulative environmental impacts that have proved extremely costly in the past, as exampled in Mr. Bolton's presentation.

“The users and business owners need to own the pollution and the fix and fully account for it,” Mr. Bolton concludes. The GBA has been advocating for, “these operations moved to closed containment systems or up to land.”

Watch both GBA speakers, Rupert Kindersley and JIm Bolton, in this combined presentation.
Length: 21 minutes

RJ Taylor – from the Ontario Aquaculture Association (OAA), Co-owner Cedar Creat Trout Farms, Managing Director of the OAA

Mr. Taylor gives a very personal account of his connections to aquaculture, “Fish-farming runs in my blood…It was at that hatchery [his family’s] that I learned how to net-fish, and move fish, grade fish, sort fish, spawn fish and worry about the fish.”

In later years, he reconciled concerns about aquaculture by pursuing answers in science based reports and being open to supporting new science to improve operations. He discusses the environmental safeguards taken by the operators in Georgian Bay that are under the OAA, including undergoing Best Aquacultural Practices Certification among others.

The OAA believes that there could be a net-positive effect for the environment in oligotrophic conditions, but understands the research has not been completed to proved this out at this time. The net-pen aquaculture sites under the OAA represent 95% of rainbow trout (100,000 meals) in Ontario, or 8 thousand metric tons.

They are committed to:
  • Best Management practices
  • Excellent Environmental Records
  • Complete transparency

Watch Mr. Taylor's 16 min presentation.
Length: 16 minutes

Panel Questions

Audience questions were put to the panel that was structured as follows (see video still from left to right)s:

  • Moderator - David Sweetnam, Executive Director for Georgian Bay Forever
  • Panel member - RJ Taylor, Member of the Aquaculture Committee of the Georgian Bay Association
  • Panel member - Jim Bolton, Member of the Aquaculture Committee of the Georgian Bay Association
  • Panel member - Dr. Neil Rooney, Professor for the University of Guelph

Listen to their answers to these topics and questions:

  • First Nations. How did they receive the work you are doing?
  • Difference between open cage (net pen) and close cage operations. Give us a sense of the economics - is it a driver in choosing which method? What are your thoughts beyond the straight cost? What are the effects to aquatic ecosystem of near shore vs. off-shore?
  • Is oxygen measured? Is there inoxia happening where the measurements have been taken that are looking at net pen aquaculture?
  • Have you projected effects into the future? (7 generations, impacts from climate change like higher water temperatures)
  • Consumer's perspective. Is there a huge difference between wild and farmed and organic fish to consider?
  • Why is phosphorus too low in the open water and why not in the near-shore?

To listen to the panel answer these questions, please visit: The Panel - 24 minute video.
Length: 24 minutes

Please check back with us. Coming soon.......

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DPO) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

The government did not come to H2O 2018. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that regulates aquaculture deferred to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) who declined to attend due to cost travel restrictions. They will provide answers to written questions available soon at www.gbf.org.

GBF is working with the University of Guelph on research to inform critical regulatory decisions

In 2016, GBF sent a letter to recommend that the Ontario Government defer any changes to the “APPLICATION GUIDELINES FOR CAGE AQUACULTURE FACILITIES" until a Federal review is completed and that research is completed to help inform this review.

Since 2016 and to help inform this review, GBF has been working with the University of Guelph to primarily determine if nutrient subsidies from net-pen aquaculture in Georgian Bay are being taken up by species in the surrounding aquatic ecosystem. Preliminary research was completed on one site, which indicated some uptake by open water fish (Cisco and Lake Trout) and no uptake by near-shore fish. This is not necessarily a negative impact, but it is an impact - and further work needs to be done to evaluate it.
There are many more steps in research that need to be done and are ongoing to determine if net-pen aquaculture is negative, neutral, or even potentially positive for the aquatic ecosystem and what role does site location and operation practices effect these outcomes. Many samples were taken from multiple sites over the summer of 2018, and the analysis of these results are expected in the Spring or Summer of 2019.

In summary, yes, we should be concerned, but let’s follow the science. GBF is supporting the U of G as it collects and analyzes samples and data to enable evidence based answers to these critical factors important for sustainable regulations.
  • Placement of operations (depth exposure, currents etc.)
  • Management strategies (feeding regimes, harvest regimes, following)
  • What are acceptable thresholds, environmental factors that determine go or no-go?
  • To learn more about this work and to help support more of it, please visit GBF's net-pen aquaculture page.
Many many thank yous to the presenters, the audience, Bert Liverance for taping and editing the full videos, our sponsor Bruce Power and partner GBA, Helen Bryce, and all the volunteers for contributing to such a great day!

H2O 2018 was co-hosted by Georgian Bay Forever and the Georgian Bay Association, and sponsored by Bruce Power. For more information about the partners, please click here.