Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Environment and Climate Change Canada Reluctant to Enforce Regulations against Aquaculture Operators

September 26, 2017
Department confirms illegal "disposal at sea" of fish farm chemicals, in response to complaint from retired federal employee

K’JIPUKTUK/HALIFAX  - A retired Environment Canada employee and conservation and environmental law groups are calling for action from the federal government after Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) confirmed certain aquaculture activities result in a disposal at sea, likely violating the federal Disposal at Sea Regulations.  Despite this confirmation the activities appear to be continuing without any enforcement action by ECCC. 

Aquaculture companies use a variety of drugs, disinfectants and pesticides in response to sea lice and  disease on salmon,  issues that come along with farming fish in the open ocean. Chemical residues and pesticides are released into the ocean after use despite limitations under the Disposal at Sea Regulations and the serious risk of harm these chemicals pose to the marine environment and wildlife.

In February 2016, retired Environment Canada employee Bill Ernst launched a formal complaint about the practice to ECCC. In his complaint, Ernst identified specific companies but noted that an industry-wide investigation was needed.

After more than a year of reviewing the complaint and undertaking investigations of activities taking place in New Brunswick, officials from ECCC confirmed to Mr. Ernst on April 25, 2017 that they had a reasonable belief that the companies he identified were violating the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 and that the department would take ‘appropriate’ enforcement action.

Yet, despite repeated requests from Ernst on how ECCC will enforce the Disposal at Sea Regulations, no clear enforcement action has happened.  The aquaculture industry’s widespread practice of discharging chemicals into the marine environment continues.

Ernst, East Coast Environmental Law, West Coast Environmental Law Association, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Living Oceans Society, and Friends of the Earth Canada are calling for an industry-wide investigation into the chemical dumping practice.

“I continue to be concerned that by its inaction. Minister McKenna is abdicating her responsibility to protect the marine environment and, in doing so, is giving the impression that the Government of Canada is willing to promote the aquaculture industry at the expense of other industries and environmental sustainability,” says Ernst.

Adds Lisa Mitchell, Executive Director with East Coast Environmental Law: “Aquaculture may be a valuable economic driver in the Atlantic Canadian economy, as are many other coastal industries,  but to ensure these industries remain viable, the laws that protect the environment upon which they depend must be applied fairly and effectively. Private citizens should not bear the burden of enforcing those laws.”

“We commend Mr. Ernst for his efforts to ensure that the laws to protect our environment and coastal fisheries are being enforced,” says Matthew Abbott, Fundy Baykeeper with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. “It is disappointing that ECCC has not taken the opportunity provided by Mr. Ernst’s complaint to comprehensively investigate pesticide and other chemical use on aquaculture sites in Canadian waters. An industry-wide investigation is needed.”

The ECCC report regarding Mr. Ernst’s complaint can be viewed here.


Contact Information

Bill Ernst

Environment Canada retiree

Wrernst1 [at], 902-865-5771


Matthew Abbott, Fundy Baykeeper

Conservation Council of New Brunswick [at]


Karen Wristen, Executive Director

Living Oceans Society

kwristen [at]



Aquaculture operators use many chemicals including pesticides, drugs and disinfectants, which are subsequently discharged directly to the marine environment.  Extensive scientific research, both in Canada and internationally, has shown that the open release of such chemicals, particularly the pesticides used for the treatment of sea lice has unwanted environmental effects.  That evidence was used to determine that the environmental risk of some pesticides was judged to be unacceptable by Environment Canada.  Enforcement action was taken against several aquaculture operations in New Brunswick under the pollution prevention provisions of the Federal Fisheries Act for the use of unregistered pesticides.  After several warnings, which did not stop the activity, the operators were charged and plead guilty to this illegal pesticide use.  Shortly thereafter, new regulations (Aquaculture Activities Regulations) were promulgated under the Fisheries Act, which removed the authority of Environment and Climate Change Canada to take enforcement action under the Fisheries Act and a Ministerial Order from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans took all responsibility for aquaculture oversight and scientific investigation away from Environment and Climate Change Canada.  That responsibility now lies with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the department responsible for promoting aquaculture activities.

The new regulations did not, however, remove the responsibility of the federal Environment and Climate Change Canada in ensuring that the marine environment is protected through the Disposal at Sea Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.  The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, gives Environment and Climate Change Canada authority to control the discharge of pollutants into marine environments through the Disposal at Sea Regulations.   The federal government has been aware that the treatment practices of the aquaculture industry were a probable violation of the Disposal at Sea Regulations for several years, and yet it appears that these practices have been allowed to continue despite the Regulations and the risk of harm to the environment. 

In February 2016, private citizen Bill Ernst, a retired Environment Canada employee, launched a formal complaint about the industry practices to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).  After more than a year of reviewing the complaint and undertaking investigations, officials from ECCC informed Mr. Ernst that the alleged offenders were, in fact, violating the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 and ‘appropriate’ enforcement action would be taken.

Despite requests by Mr. Ernst for information from ECCC on how they will enforce the Disposal at Sea Regulations there has been no clear enforcement action taken.  The aquaculture industry’s widespread practice of discharging chemicals into the marine environment continues.