04/21/2015 01:28 EDT | Updated 07/13/2015 09:01 EDT

New regulatory body would approve aquaculture operations in Nova Scotia

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's aquaculture industry would be governed by a new set of rules and a new body responsible for approving future licenses under legislation introduced Tuesday by the provincial government.

Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell highlighted two changes he said were in response to recommendations in a report on aquaculture by Dalhousie University legal experts Meinhard Doelle and Bill Lahey. Their report was released in December.

The first would see the creation of an independent three-member review board that would be responsible for approving new aquaculture operations, while the second would see the responsibility for enforcing environmental rules transferred from Fisheries to the Environment Department.

Colwell said the review board would make decisions on leases and licences after holding public hearings.

"We just want to make sure that it's not a political decision to put a facility in place," said Colwell. "That it is indeed based on science and the proposal that's put forward."

However, Colwell said cabinet would retain the ability to determine whether an area is suitable for aquaculture development before individual applications are submitted to the review board.

Existing operations wouldn't be subject to new regulations expected later in the spring, he said, unless they are expanding or proposing a new project.

Colwell said information on problems related to specific aquaculture operations would also be made public through the department's website.

The province has a moratorium in place on new aquaculture ventures, but Colwell said he hopes the province could be "open for business" once the new regulatory regime has been finalized.

Tom Smith, executive director of the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, said he believes the industry will be able to operate and grow under the changes proposed. He said there is support for a clear and transparent licensing process.

"If we know the rules and we understand the process that the government is putting in place, we certainly are going to be able to deal with it," Smith said.

Ray Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre said it was difficult to comment on the government's proposal after not being given advanced warning it was coming.

But Plourde said the regulations would ultimately show how serious the government is about addressing public concerns and the recommendations contained in the Doelle Lahey report.

"The legislation provides the framework for regulations, but the devil will be in the detail of the regulations," said Plourde.