The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recently announced that it is in the process of modifying the procedure for certifying compliance with the Fish Inspection Regulations. This step is the latest phase of a two-year plan originally identified by the CFIA in 2012. These changes will affect export certification and export eligibility lists.

Like meat and poultry, Canada carefully regulates the fish and seafood products that it exports to other countries for the purpose of human consumption. This is largely done to ensure continued access for Canadian processors to foreign markets.

Regulating the export of fish and seafood products is done through a variety of mechanisms, including export licenses, export certificates and eligibility lists, depending on the activity in question and the product destination. Generally speaking, while there are some exceptions for live crab and lobster, fish and seafood being exported for food must originate from a registered fish-processing establishment. Often, the regulatory authority in the importing jurisdiction will also require an export certificate, which requires the exporter to demonstrate that the fish complies with both Canadian and the importing country’s certification requirements.

This is common to several other types of exports regulated by the CFIA, such as pet food. However, the mechanism and extent to which the CFIA oversees compliance with the importing country’s requirements varies depending on the regulatory regime applicable to the product and the bilateral or multilateral agreements that the CFIA has with the importing country in relation to the product in question.

At present, fish and seafood exporters may demonstrate compliance with the importing country’s certification requirements in one of several ways. They may hold a Certificate of Registration and implement a Quality Management Program (QMP) with an acceptable element on export certification controls or implement an Export Certification Control Program (ECCP); or be the holder of a Fish Export Licence and implement an acceptable ECCP, or have each consignment of fish inspected by the CFIA prior to certification and export.

The CFIA is now strengthening its regulatory oversight of ECCP implementation. Federally registered fish establishments are required to complete the Export Certification Control Program (ECCP) – Attestation for Registered Establishments form and send it to their local CFIA office by December 1, 2014. This form attests that establishments have updated their QMP plan to include relevant elements of the ECCP plan. During fish establishments’ next compliance verification audit, the CFIA will review establishments’ QMP plans to confirm that these plans include relevant elements of the ECCP.

Failure to incorporate the ECCP plan into an establishment’s QMP plan could cause significant business disruption: federally-registered establishments that have not incorporated the ECCP plan elements into their QMP must have all of their product inspected by the CFIA and will be removed from foreign country export eligible lists (except for the United States’ list).

Brokers (parties purchasing fish/seafood for resale without further transformation) will also be required to complete the required elements of the ECCP to continue receiving export certificates without inspection of all product, or to be eligible for export lists. Export certificates will be issued based on the broker’s ECCP and not on master certificates (certificates for one or more lots of fish which have been previously certified), which are used presently. As well, brokers will not be able to receive partially-completed certificates (partially-completed certificates are used for live or fresh fish). (Although the Fish Inspection Act will be repealed once the Safe Food for Canadians Act comes into force (likely in 2015), it is expected that the Fish Inspection Regulations will be transitioned to the new legislation.)