Subsidiarity, science and the management of finfish aquaculture in British Columbia (MSE speaker series, 7 October 2009)

In the presentation of his paper, “Subsidiarity and environmental federalism: the emergence of ‘new governance’ in finfish aquaculture in Canada,” Prof Neil Craik discussed a number of issues around the legislation of finfish aquaculture in British Columbia. One aspect of particular importance was the question of subsidiarity. In his paper, he cites the Supreme Court of Canada’s definition of subsidiarity: “the proposition that law-making and implementation are often best achieved at a level of government that is not only effective, but also closest to the citizens affected and thus most responsive to their needs, to local distinctiveness, and to population diversity.” Prof Craik suggests that governance of resources and environmental management must be “democratic,” because there exists a diversity of values, and ultimately those affected by the regulations should be involved in the design of the regulations. This is in opposition to the British Columbia Supreme Court’s ruling that aquaculture should be federally regulated. At first glance, I agree with Prof Craik’s assessment: those best situated to protect a resource are those closest to it. This requires, however, some degree of alignment of values in regards to the management of the resource at hand. This lack of common values is quite apparent in the finfish aquaculture industry, which is, in Prof Craik’s words, “highly polarized,” with very little common ground between the advocates of the industry and its opponents. Subsidiarity also ignores non-verbal stakeholders, such as future generations. In addition, if salmon farms have an impact on wild salmon (which many argue they do), it seems appropriate that the federal government (DFO) have some say in their management, because management of wild salmon stocks happens at the federal level. In the case of wild salmon, the necessity of higher level management is brought about by the biology of the system itself; wild salmon know no borders, and therefore quotas must be streamlined with those of American fisheries agencies to achieve real, sustainable management.

My final concern is that current means of regulating the industry essentially eliminate the possibility of implementing adaptive management of salmon aquaculture off the BC coast. Adaptive management is difficult to incorporate into the current system because land leases are given out for 30 years at a time, to make development of aquaculture more economically viable. This seems to me to be a risky move in the management of a resource that is as notoriously complex as the west coast salmon fishery. Management needs to find ways of accommodating the science, not the other way around.

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