06/17/2015 11:08 EDT | Updated 06/17/2016 01:12 EDT

Nova Scotia oversight of aquaculture sites may miss disease outbreaks: auditor

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's auditor general says the province can't adequately monitor fish farms and is calling on the government to improve its ability to identify outbreaks of disease in the industry.Michael Pickup says in a report released Wednesday that the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture follows its policies in issuing licences, leases and renewals.But while the department provides monitoring service on the health of fish and responds to emergencies, it might not always be aware of disease outbreaks. The department can't always tell whether outbreaks of disease are being managed properly, he adds.The findings are in the auditor general's latest report to the legislature, which says the Department of Health and Wellness also doesn't know if prevention and treatment programs for problem gamblers work."Many Nova Scotians who need help with problems related to their gambling do not reach out to provincial services," Pickup says in a statement. "Health and Wellness needs to figure out why this is and focus on getting more of those people to look for help."Pickup looked at government procurement policies too, determining that while the government generally follows its rules on buying professional services in the six departments that were audited, it needs to make sure what it purchases has been properly approved.Here is a look at some of the auditor general's findings:AQUACULTURE MONITORING NEEDS IMPROVEMENTPickup says fish farms aren't required to report disease outbreaks to the province and that should be changed.In his audit, Pickup found the province doesn't have clear policies on the number of routine visits needed to monitor the health of fish.He is recommending that the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture determine which fish diseases it needs to monitor and establish an appropriate reporting process.The department says new regulations will require operators to identify and report diseases as they are phased in over the next 18 months.___EFFECTIVENESS OF PROGRAMS TO HELP PROBLEM GAMBLERS IS UNKNOWNThe auditor general says the latest estimates show about 7,000 people in Nova Scotia experience harm due to excessive gambling, while another 12,000 were at risk of developing problems.However, Pickup says the Health Department doesn't know if its programs to prevent and treat problem gambling are working.He says it's unclear how many people the programs reach, and the province hasn't made much progress in setting treatment standards for people who have mental health diagnoses and gambling addictions.As well, a help line for problem gambling sometimes responds slowly to callers and doesn't follow up in some cases, Pickup says.He says the department should establish goals to determine if prevention efforts are reducing the harm caused by excessive gambling.The department agrees and says it will set goals, but there may be "limited" improvement due to the complexities involved.It is also bringing in new standards that include staff training to screen and provide treatment for problem gambling when treating people with mental health disorders.Pickup would also like deals that are negotiated with First Nations to include rules on responsible gambling, saying agreements between the province and 13 First Nations bands don't include any method to ensure gambling on reserves complies with provincial laws, such as rules on advertising and age limits.The Department of Aboriginal Affairs says it will try to include provincial gaming laws in the deals it makes with First Nations in the next round of talks.___GOVERNMENT PURCHASING OF PROFESSIONAL SERVICES NEEDS TIGHTENINGThe auditor general found that while the government generally follows its rules on buying professional services in the six departments that were audited, it needs to make sure what it purchases has been properly approved.He says in eight out of 22 contracts examined, the deals were signed after work started.Pickup found times when there were no penalty clauses for the work not being done. The contracts also lacked dispute resolution clauses.He is recommending that processes be put in place to ensure deals aren't signed after work begins, and that penalty clauses be included in contractsThe Department of Internal Services agrees with Pickup's recommendations, adding that over the next two years the suggested clauses will be developed.