Two public-interest nonprofit groups have expressed concerns over recent amendments to Nova Scotia’s Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act, (FCRA) on the grounds that they will restrict access to environmental information. The Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia (NSRTK) and East Coast Environmental Law (ECELAW) are concerned these changes will limit critical oversight of provincial aquaculture and deal a blow to transparency in the province. The FCRA was amended via Bill 95, which was drafted in part as a response to the Doelle-Lahey Report. The Doelle-Lahey Report clearly states that openness and transparency are an essential component of the aquaculture regulatory framework.
The Report also notes that the future of aquaculture as a sustainable industry in Nova Scotia depends on a focus on the health and well-being of farmed animals. However, the Bill 95 amendments make information on the health of farmed fish even less available by exempting veterinary records from the ambit of Nova Scotia’s access to information laws. In explaining the provision, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Keith Colwell, claimed that the provision is analogous to the exception for doctor-patient confidentiality.
“There is an obvious difference between the need to protect personal health information and veterinary information,” said NSRTK President, Michael Karanicolas. “The exception is yet another loophole in a legal framework which already excludes enormous amounts of information that should be public.”
The Doelle-Lahey Report recognized industry concerns over the public release of information on fish health that may negatively impact marketing, however the Report is clear in stating that information should only be considered confidential if its release would result in real economic harm. Under Nova Scotia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, information that would be prejudicial to business interests is already exempted from disclosure. However, Bill 95 goes far beyond this, providing an exemption for nearly all veterinary records. The ability of public interest organizations such as ECELAW to access fish health information is critical to their ability to carry out proper oversight reviews of the aquaculture industry.
“Some of the amendments made to the Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act fly in the face of the way forward recommended by Doelle-Lahey. Openness, transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of the Report, and yet one of the first steps taken by the Minister is to make it more difficult to ensure the industry is accountable by making the law less open and less transparent”, says Aaron Ward, Executive Director of ECELAW, “We call on Minister Colwell to get serious about regulatory reform in the aquaculture industry and to implement the full suite of Doelle-Lahey Report recommendations”.
For further information, please contact:
Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia
tel: +1 902 448-5290
East Coast Environmental Law
tel: +1 902 495-9111