BC’s Salmon Farms Could Face Multiple Legal Threats

Originally Published in the ECOreport

Photo Courtesy Alexandra Morton

BC’s Salmon farms could face Multiple Legal Threats . Ignoring the Cohen Commission’s recommendation for a freeze on net-pen salmon farm production along the Fraser sockeye migration route until 2020, the Federal Government has issued licenses. This has prompted the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance to call upon the Harper Government to immediately implement Cohen’s recommendations. NAFTA is considering a full investigation of Canada’s failure to enforce section 36 of its federal Fisheries Act by allowing salmon aquaculture operations in British Columbia to release “deleterious substances” into waters frequented by wild salmon. Meanwhile Alexandra Morton’s long awaited suit against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans opened in Vancouver today. Morton’s lawyer filed the suit after learning that fish allegedly infected with the piscine reovirus (PRV) had been transferred into an open-pen fish farm operated by Marine Harvest along the Fraser River sockeye migration.

Chief Bob Chamberlain, Vice-President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Alexandra Morton, Biologist, Margot Venton, Ecojustice Lawyer – Courtesy Alexandra Morton

On page 6, volume 3 of the Cohen Commission Recomendations it states, “the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon from salmon farms is serious or irreversible. Disease transfer occurs between wild and farmed fish, and I am satisfied that salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to exacerbate endemic diseases that could have a negative impact on Fraser River sockeye.”

Close to 3/4 of the BC salmon available on the market is farmed.

Morton said the PRV virus has been found in both farmed and wild fish in B.C.

In response to her statement that PRV was found on the Marine Harvest site at at Shelter Bay Ian Roberts, a company spokesperson, said, “Marine Harvest Canada has not, and does not, acknowledge that the fish transferred to Shelter Bay site (March 2013) had PRV. No evidence has been brought forward to the court to confirm this allegation.”

Three of the four labs testifying at the Cohen Commission said they found the ISA virus in BC salmon. The fourth  testified they got a “weak positive,” but the samples were degraded and tests inconclusive. (Watch their testimony in Morton’s documentary http://salmonconfidential.ca/watch-salmon-confidential-documentary/)

B.C. Salmon Farmers Association spokesman Jeremy Dunn told the Campbell River Mirror that the industry has done 3,000 tests on salmon and never found ISA.

Prespawn Mortality at Gates Creek 2012  – Courtesy Alexandra Morton In a press release last month Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said, “Justice Cohen got it right when he prioritized the conservation and protection of wild salmon and placed this firmly as the top priority of DFO; at the same

In a press release last month Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said, “Justice Cohen got it right when he prioritized the conservation and protection of wild salmon and placed this firmly as the top priority of DFO; at the same time concluding that fish farms along wild salmon migration routes have the potential for serious and irreversible harm to wild salmon. However, instead of implementing Cohen’s recommendations, the reverse holds true. DFO is making the expansion of the fish farm industry the priority at the risk and peril to wild salmon.”

“Wild salmon is integral to our cultures, communities and Nations and with the continued expansion of fish farms into our territories we have witnessed the devastating impact fish farms have on wild salmon and this is simply unacceptable.”said  Chief Bob Chamberlin, Vice-President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “The First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, a coalition of approximately 80 First Nations have been turning their collective attention and expertise to the protection of wild salmon and we call on the Harper Government to immediately respond and fully implement Cohen’s recommendations. DFO does not have the best interests of the health and sustainability of wild salmon as a priority in their policies. This is clear as they continue to disregard Cohen’s recommendations and continue on with the promotion and expansion of the aquaculture industry.”

Atlantic salmon with lesion - Courtesy Alexandra Morton

“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is standing by while companies decide to put fish carrying viruses into the ocean,” said Margot Venton, Ecojustice staff lawyer representing Morton. “Not only is this a reckless approach to marine protection, but we believe it is unlawful.”

“DFO has a mandate to protect wild fish. How can it do that when it has given away its decision-making powers to the same fish farm companies it is supposed regulate?” Morton added. “DFO is basically letting the fox guard the chicken coop. The industry has claimed that PRV poses no risk to wild salmon, but the weight of scientific evidence suggests otherwise.”

Morton’s case is expected to conclude in four months.

Alexandra Morton’s Notice of Application  – Courtesy Alexandra Morton

Meanwhile Nafta is considering whether to investigate the Canadian government’s alleged violations of its Fisheries Act in permitting more than 100 industrial salmon feedlots in British Columbia to operate along wild salmon migration routes, potentially exposing ecologically, socially and economically valuable salmon runs to epidemics of disease, parasites, toxic chemicals and concentrated waste.

In response, Jeremy Dunn to the Vancouver SUN he’s confident in the industry’s “sustainability practices” and eventual vindication.

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