Aquaculture Review Board
The Aquaculture Review Board (ARB) is an independent, Government funded and appointed, decision making body established under the Provincial Public Inquiries Act and Part V of the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act.
As explained on it's website, the ARB has been given the mandate to adjudicate (decide) on aquaculture applications in marine areas for new sites, expansions to existing sites and modifications to existing sites to allow for the production of finfish (fish with fins).
The ARB was established in 2015 following a significant overhaul of provincial aquaculture regulations. The very first open net pen finfish hearing was not held until November, 2021. Accordingly, there is a backlog of adjudicative applications that both industry and government are anxious to clear.
Site AQ # 1039, Rattling Beach near Digby, NS was the subject of the first open net pen finfish hearing. This hearing was for an "expansion" that took place 17 years ago. A great deal was learned about the approval process during this hearing.
We are using this knowledge to prepare for the upcoming hearing for Site AQ # 1006 near Bayswater Beach Provincial Park in Aspotogan Harbour.
From the Rattling Beach hearing, it is clear that the approval process is not fair to all parties. Some examples are as follows. The selection of intervenors is very restrictive. Costs of legal representation for intervenors is expensive and not subsidized. Points of view heard by the Board are limited by the financial ability of intervenors to pay legal fees and hire experts to provide testimony. Additionally, Government uses administrative tactics to prevent the ARB from hearing questions or concerns regarding advice received from other agencies. The end result is that the ARB makes decisions based on incomplete information.
Similar to other sectors, the conflict of interest between the roles of promoter and regulator of this industry is on full display when looking at legislation and regulations concerning the ARB.
Let's Get the Minister's Attention!
The good news is that there are simple solutions to this situation. The NS Aquaculture Regulatory Advisory Committee has started work. But we don't need to wait for them to figure it out. The Minister has the power to level the ARB playing field right now. Let's encourage him to do so.
The Minister introduced Bill 24 in the Legislature in October, 2021. The Bill increased the number of ARB Commissioners. Now, much to the delight of industry, up to three hearings can be held simultaneously. Bring on that backlog of applications! Oh! And it passed through the Legislature, start to finish in only eight days!
Let's encourage him to treat our suggestions with equal urgency - before the next ARB hearing!
Two simple solutions are within easy reach of government. First, make funding available to offset legal costs of intervenors. Typically, local residents do not have deep pockets like government and industry. Legal costs are estimated at about ten to twenty thousand dollars to have the Bayswater case represented by lawyers This is a significant expense brought on by government and industry's choice to have their cases presented by lawyers! NOT REQUIRED AND NOT FAIR!
Second, allow more information to be heard by the ARB. There are eight "factors" the ARB must consider. Sounds like a lot but in the first hearing, they proved to be restrictive. By relying only on these eight factors, the ARB does not receive all the information it needs to make a sound decision. Let's add a ninth factor: "OTHER MATTERS THAT THE BOARD DEEMS ADMISSIBLE" or something like that. The ARB can then seek more information and intervenors can table more information. Better decisions can result. MAKE IT FAIR!
Both these suggestions can be implemented now - just like Bill 24!