Government of Canada announces enhancements to sea lice enforcement in British Columbia

News release

June 28, 2019

Vancouver, BC - Demand for fish and seafood as a high-protein food source is increasing significantly worldwide and putting pressure on wild fish populations. Approximately half of the seafood consumed worldwide is produced by the aquaculture industry, which is and will remain an important source of seafood-based protein.

In order to maintain Canadians’ confidence and secure a bright commercial future, it is critical that aquaculture be environmentally sustainable. In recent months, for example, there have been several incidents at finfish aquaculture operations in British Columbia where sea lice levels were well above regulatory thresholds. Sea lice are parasites that have lived in Pacific coastal waters for thousands of years. They typically are not harmful to adult fish, but can harm small juvenile salmon.

Today, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, announced that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will take action to improve aquaculture farms’ compliance with sea lice management regulatory requirements.

Over the coming months, DFO will be moving to strengthen finfish aquaculture conditions of licence in British Columbia. This will ensure that, in addition to aquaculture farms having plans to deal with sea lice occurrences above regulatory thresholds, DFO will have the appropriate enforcement tools to respond quickly if such plans are not followed, effective, or successful. These changes will be in place in early 2020, in advance of the next juvenile salmon smolt outmigration in British Columbia, when wild juvenile salmon are at greatest risk from sea lice.

The updated conditions of licence will not only enable stronger enforcement but will also be consistent with DFO’s new area-based management approach, which will ensure that environmental, social, and economic factors are taken into consideration when identifying potential areas for aquaculture development. Thresholds will be more adaptable and better account for local environmental considerations and the status of wild fish populations.

In addition to strengthening DFO’s ability to enforce regulations, other actions are being taken to better address sea lice. We are creating an Indigenous and Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Body (IMAB), to be chaired by the Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, with support from the  Fish Health Technical Working Group. This group will be asked to provide advice that could inform further research and changes to the management of sea lice in British Columbia.

DFO will also continue to consult and work with the Province of British Columbia, Indigenous partners, environmental non-governmental organizations, industry, and interested partners on pest management approaches and potential new technologies that can help to strictly address potential impacts of sea lice to wild salmon.


“The Government of Canada recognizes that, in working within a precautionary approach, we need to ensure sea lice management measures include robust enforcement actions and that these measures meet the highest international standards. We are committed to taking action now to address recent sea lice incidents and concerns that have been raised by interested observers regarding sea lice and wild salmon.”

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson

Quick facts

  • Sea lice are small parasites that occur naturally in the marine environment and their abundance is influenced by seasonal and year-to-year variations in ocean salinity, temperature and other environmental conditions.

  • DFO’s conditions of licence for aquaculture require strict ongoing inspection of farmed fish to monitor sea lice levels and implementation of management measures so that sea lice numbers are at their lowest during the outmigration of wild juvenile salmon, from March 1 to June 30 of each year.

  • During most years, more than 90 per cent of BC farm sites have been below the regulatory sea lice threshold during the wild salmon outmigration period; however, sea lice counts can be variable and are affected by environmental conditions. In the last two years, levels of sea lice over the threshold have been observed in two areas on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

  • Aquaculture producers that exceed the sea lice threshold must develop a mitigation plan to address the issue. Changes would outline more stringent requirements, including providing data and metrics, that DFO could use to evaluate and determine whether the plan was effective in addressing sea lice.

  • These measures are further to the enhanced reporting and monitoring requirements for heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI) and jaundice syndrome, which were announced on June 4, 2019.

  • The actions announced today build on a number of additional initiatives that support a robust, science-based approach to regulating aquaculture and contribute to the sustainable development of the sector:

    • The creation of an external Advisory Committee on Aquaculture Science was announced by Minister Wilkinson on May 27, 2019 and is expected to be in place this summer.
    • A joint technology study between the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia is underway to evaluate and provide viable technology options for salmon farming in BC, including land-based and ocean-based closed-containment options. The results of the study will be available shortly.
    • DFO will be pursuing an area-based approach to aquaculture management going forward which will ensure that environmental, social, and economic factors are taken into consideration when identifying potential areas for aquaculture development, as well as considerations relating to migration pathways for wild salmon.
    • The creation of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Clean Technology Adoption Program (FACTAP) will help fish farmers adopt clean technologies for their operations to improve environmental performance. A number of projects for BC have already been announced.

Associated links


Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada 

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