Conflicting mandates at DFO?

no conflicts...


On Sept. 19th or so, the Cohen Commission has two days of hearings on cumulative impacts. Two days… to discuss cumulative impacts…

There’s also several days of DFO largely defending itself, etc. …


final hearings at Cohen Commission


This following the release of a DFO ‘Communications Plan‘ entered as evidence last week at the Commission… suggesting that the public is dull, and all these slanted journalists… and so on.

There’s an interesting editorial at the Times Colonist from the other day:

DFO in conflict on fish farms

Many British Columbians will likely be mildly insulted to find the Department of Fisheries and Oceans considers opposition to salmon farming the result of a confused and unaware public, manipulated by environmental groups and poorly served by biased reporters.

That’s the conclusion in a DFO communications plan filed as an exhibit at the Cohen Commission investigating the decline of Fraser River sockeye runs.

The National Aquaculture Communications and Outreach Approach report, by a New Brunswick communications consultant, is revealing.

The DFO is assumed to be the champion of the industry. Critics – or reporters – are presumed to be self-serving. Environmental groups raising concerns are seeking “to further their agenda and fundraising efforts.”

News coverage often draws those sorts of comments. In the case of salmon farming, both supporters and critics routinely accuse the news media of favouring the other side. That’s one of the things that is troubling about the report. The industry can be expected to have an agenda.

So can communities and environmental groups.

But the DFO should be a neutral, science-based regulator, ensuring that the best evidence is used to set standards for fisheries, farmed and wild, that protect the environment and the public interest. That role is undermined, even corrupted, if the government department becomes an advocate for a particular industry segment. Its impartiality and willingness to enforce standards is cast in doubt. Its pronouncements can no longer be trusted.

Actions like forbidding scientists from discussing their research are taken as evidence of pro-aquaculture bias.

The report highlights a fundamental conflict. The DFO, or at least senior management, believes it should be promoting aquaculture. At the same time, it is charged with regulating the industry. The two roles create, at the least, the perception of conflicts of interest.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _
The issue with DFO in general is that its one huge institutional conflict. The number one mandate is supposed to be “Conservation” — however, it’s institutional focus for the last hundred years has been to support commercial and sport fisheries.

On one hand it hands out money to various groups for fisheries related work… and then on the other hand shows up with big truck and guns demanding to know what folks are doing in a creek.

On one hand, its supposed to ‘conserve’ fish habitat, and then on the other hand approve major hydro dams and mining projects, which in turn are supposed to ensure “no net-loss of habitat”…

On the one hand, its supposed to ‘conserve’ fish habitat, and then takes on ‘economic development’ with aquaculture…and hands out over $100 million in ‘research & development’…

_ _ _ _ _ _

Is this not akin to the RCMP arresting and investigating crimes… and then having an economic interest in building more jails, or recovering funds from the sale of goods seized in crimes…?

(there’s enough fuss as it is — with the RCMP investigating itself…)

shouldn’t maybe the ‘conservation’ of wild salmon get handed over to Environment Canada, or some ministry with an actual mandate to ‘conserve’…

there’s significant irony in a government ministry having the central mandate of “conserving” something so that people can catch and kill it…

and ‘conserve’ for whom? why?

6 thoughts on “Conflicting mandates at DFO?

  1. Heather Olney

    The DFO did not choose to take on aquaculture. Let’s be clear on that. It was forced on them by environmental groups most visibly Alexandra Morton who took the Federal government to court to force them to manage it. Considering the DFO is the country’s science body for the study of fish and marine sciences should they not be considered to have enough expertise to speak about the management of the industry without doubt constantly being thrown on them ? It was made clear at the Cohen Enquiry that the biggest cause of salmon research for disease etc. being halted was because of the constant public rant about sea lice diminishing salmon stocks put forth by A Morton and her supporters. Important funds for salmon research were thus diverted to address Morton’s claims. It is a pity she was given so much notice because valuble research dollars were wasted on a dead horse.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment Heather.
    you might want to check your history and the history of the Canadian Constitution — and the relationship between case law (jurisprudence) and legislation.

    First, the court case “Morton v. British Columbia (Agriculture and Lands)” was a court case involving the Province of BC — not the feds. It was the ruling of the judge that made the rules — not the implied enviros…

    Second, if you read the other petitioners in the case are the Wilderness Tourism Association, Southern Area ‘E’ Gillnetters, and Fishing Vessel Owner’s Association… not really environmental groups by the common definition.

    Third, if DFO is so wise about the study of fish and marine sciences — I would hope that their fish and fishery experts would recognize what comprises a “fishery”. The central ruling of the BC Supreme Court was that aquaculture is a “fishery” and is therefore under the jurisdiction of the federal governments (this comes under Section 91 and Section 92 of the Canadian Constitution — e.g. the division of powers between federal and provincial governments). Therefore, the federal government was acting unconstitutionally when it handed power of aquaculture to the Province of BC.

    The Constitution’s been around since about 1867 and a ‘department’ of fisheries has been around some hundred years or so… think they could figure out what comprises a ‘fishery’…

    Fourth, DFO (that same body of science for the study of fish and marine sciences) is largely responsible for the collapse of North Atlantic Cod. One of the biggest fisheries collapses in the history of the world. Say no more…

    Fifth, as I’ve said in multiple posts — “fisheries” are not really issues of science, they are political issues. Just like the North Atlantic Cod issue — politicians and senior bureaucrats ignored constant and direct advice from scientists.

    Sixth, there is a fundamental conflict in the name of the ministry — it is the Department of “Fisheries” and Oceans. That means the focus is on providing and opening fisheries — not marine science and conservation (e.g. the FISH).

    The last comment I think I’ll take on here is this idea that aquaculture was “forced” upon DFO. They should never have handed control away in the first place.
    And DFO should never have got involved in the’ business’ (literally) of promoting aquaculture and supporting largely Norwegian companies with apparent “research and development” dollars — to the tune of over $100 million in the last ten years or so.

    When research like Miller’s would only cost about $18,000 to extend — what really is the cause of lost research dollars?
    Maybe if DFO (and the federal government that is directing it) stayed focused on their actual objectives (e.g. conserving fish) — not promoting businesses that have a terrible history with wild salmon interactions (Norway, Scotland, east coast, etc.) — and stopped handing out millions and millions of dollars supporting those business — then there wouldn’t be such an issue of funding.

    It also seems a bit early for open-pen salmon farming advocates to jump on this train of suggesting the ‘proof’ is not in on the damage salmon farming may, or has, had on wild salmon populations. As mentioned — the history of salmon farming in areas where wild runs still exist — has been terrible.

    thanks again for the comments — i’m guessing your comments aren’t too far off of other people’s thoughts on the issue.

  3. kd

    “Sixth, there is a fundamental conflict in the name of the ministry — it is the Department of “Fisheries” and Oceans. That means the focus is on providing and opening fisheries — not marine science and conservation (e.g. the FISH). ”

    this is a great point….it seems basic, but it really is cogent

  4. Farmsalmon4ever

    DFO has 55 beaurocrats spending $10 million dollars a year to regulate 100 fish farms. Now there is another moratorium. The salmon farming industry has been under official and unofficial moratoriums for 17 out of the last 20 years. The industry has ceased to grow in the last 7-8 years.

    The industry has been found 98% compliant of a huge forest of regulations for the past 10 years. Are we paying 10 million dollars a year to create new policies and regs so we can get 98.9% compliance?

    What do these beaurocrats DO all the live long day? The Province had 35 beaurocrats twiddling their thumbs for the past 10 years costing the tax payer close to 7 million dollars a year.

    Meanwhile Trust-Fund-Baby-from-Boston- Morton (daughter of Barbara Hubbard, google that nightmare if you want a good scare) is spending the family fortune, and those of other USA trust fund babies, giving millions to Suzuki to attack salmon farms.

    So you have millions going to useless beaurocrats and millions going to ENGO PR machines and zippo going to stream and river rehab.

    THAT’s the untold story, which beaurocrats are actually in charge is irrelevant.

    I say we fire 50 out of 55 beaurocrats looking after salmon farming. We should fire about 200 beaurocrats responsible for managing the wild fishery. At $100K/yr a pop that gives us $25M/ year. Then ban commercial fishing for salmon which is a big money loser, saving us another $25M, not to mention 13 million wild fish.

    This gives us $50M to put towards stream and river rehab and enforcement of Fisheries Act and keeps millions of fish alive for the lucrative catch and release sportsfishery.

    Salmon farming then can be tripled to bring in another $1600M per year.

    We could actually get ahead if we focus on farming salmon instead of commercial fishing and beaurocracy.

  5. salmon guy Post author

    Some good and fair points, and some… maybe not so much — would be nice if people commenting on here would use real names, as opposed to attacking others while hiding behind anonymous monikers, fake names and fake emails.

    Just because an industry is “compliant” does not necessarily mean it’s ‘good’. For example, look through regulations on internet-related issues — let’s say pornography… or about online gambling. Unfortunately, when it comes to many things online… rules, regulations and laws, are quite a bit behind reality. Thus, it is easy for an industry to be “compliant” with the rules… but it doesn’t make it right… or safe… or ethical.

    Look at Canada’s position on asbestos for example, as compared to most of the rest of the world…

    However, I can extend empathy to navigating bureaucracy and red-tape… as well as fully support the idea that federal institutions such as DFO are lost, unruly, way too expensive, and simply dazed and confused. Not necessarily individuals within the bloated institution… but certainly aspects of the culture and direction.

    There seems to be this ongoing confusion among many that there is a comparison between taxpayer dollars and taxpayer funded government ministries and trust-fund/slush fund dollars flowing out of U.S. philanthropic organizations.

    There is no comparison.

    Where U.S. philanthropic organizations choose to put their money is their choice and there really is nothing anyone can do about it. No different than average-ever day folks deciding to use their money to fund political parties of any stripe… or sending it to rip-off artist fly-by-night evangelists. It’s simply a matter of choice. We’re all welcome to our opinions on whether it’s “wasted” or not… but not much we can do about it, except maybe rant and rave…

    However, federal government ministries… that’s a different ballgame. They are funded by tax dollars. They are “run” by elected politicians that are assigned a portfolio. A ‘democratically’ elected government is supposed to hold all federal ministries accountable. It’s the backbone of our society — like it or not… That means that “public servants” (named that for good reason) are supposed to work for the good of the public (in an idealistic society). And thus, things like the communication plan that came out of DFO surrounding aquaculture in BC, completed by an east coast firm, is not only offensive — it’s ethically corrupt, and against the public good.

    It’s akin to supporting teachers at our kids school standing in the classroom telling our kids how dumb they are and that if they only understood ‘reality’ and stopped reading media reports by biased twisted reporters — they’d just understand better…

    Yet, I’d still support the thoughts that there needs to be much better accounting of where $$ are going in federal ministries such as DFO.
    And I absolutely support the idea of more money going to habitat protection and rehab.

    The idea of salmon farming bringing in over a billion dollars ($1600M) … well… not sure where the numbers come from and not so sure that people living on the BC coast are really all that supportive of having the bulk of salmon farming profits feeding Norwegian companies and foreign shareholders. Plus the simple fact that the jury is certainly still in deliberations on what impact salmon farming is having on wild salmon populations, coastal ecosystems, how much wild fish goes into feed (e.g. conversion rates), etc.

    So I’m not sure who we’re trying to “get ahead of”…?

    Is there a race?

    Not to mention that the bulk of salmon farming jobs, don’ t come anywhere close to matching the wages of all the lost logging jobs in coastal BC (as an example).

    ‘lucrative catch and release sport fishery’… i’ll leave that for another time…
    thanks again for the comment, glad folks are engaging with the site — hopefully if you comment again you’ll use a real name.

  6. Annie Paddle

    Interested to know where you get the idea that fish farm jobs don’t pay well ? The payroll is in the millions per month and add in related industry that wouldn’t exist but for aquaculture industry payroll climbs even higher. The industry spends tens of millions per year putting money into a lot of businesses that lost out due to the demise of commercial fishery and logging.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *