It appears both operators and communities feel shut out of Nova Scotia’s regulatory decisions surrounding aquaculture.
In the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Regulatory Advisory Committee’s latest report on the province’s aquaculture regulations, 43 stakeholders, 16 Indigenous communities and 864 mostly well-informed Nova Scotians were surveyed, wherein many indicated that the government was neither inclusive nor engaged with the public, fostering “misinformation, mistrust, reduced confidence and limited social license of the sector.”
In the times we live in, where information — whether good or bad — is abundant as ants at a picnic, there’s no reason that public records should be difficult to find. If one can quickly discover how much a member of the Legislature spent on food, hotel and travel fees in a given year, one would think it would be equally simple to find information on the regulatory process for approving aquaculture facilities in Nova Scotia — a much more pressing matter for those involved than what their local MLA ate for lunch last September.
Yet that’s exactly the experience the survey participants find when it comes to Nova Scotia’s online presence. A majority of those engaged agree that the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture website is “difficult to navigate and to find information about regulatory processes, applications and decisions.” Operators oftentimes found this information not only hard to find but entirely inaccessible.
Nova Scotia seems intent on obfuscating information regarding aquaculture and many participants in this survey found that they weren’t keen on promoting the industry at all. While there are some major players in the sector, many small to medium-sized operators feel shut out of what could be a great economic boon for the province. Red tape, bureaucracy and lack of investment provide roadblocks to those with the acumen to start or grow their business in the sector to “meet local, national and international demand for product.”
This unnavigable, bureaucratic maze that the province, whether intentionally or unintentionally, set up has left numerous would-be investors in Nova Scotia looking to greener pastures for where to invest and what career opportunities to explore.
The survey reports that there exists a “one-size-fits-all” approach to regulation that is creating disparities in the sector that seems to favour the larger national or multinational players. Many Nova Scotians, like all Canadians, would benefit from these kinds of small to medium-sized companies that provide local, homegrown jobs. Businesses of that calibre are the backbone of the country, accounting for over 80 per cent of the workforce in 2021.
The regulatory review from which these complaints stem does have some ways to right the province’s wayward course on aquaculture, however.
For starters, an easily navigable website is a no-brainer.
The department’s website, to the benefit of all parties, should be easily understandable and even easier to traverse. The steps for application should likewise be laid out in a simple, approachable manner that would give prospective applicants an idea of the process before they begin. Updates on these applications should also be readily available.
Aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing food production sectors in the world, having grown from three per cent of seafood consumption in 1950 to over 50 per cent by 2010.
Nova Scotia, however, trails a distant fourth in aquaculture production behind British Columbia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. The ball is now in the province’s court to see if, when and how quickly they adopt the changes recommended by the regulatory review. Until it does, the nebulous process they’ve created could dissuade future investments while neighbouring regions continue to outpace them.