Government failure to test farmed salmon for disease illegal, lawsuit alleges
VANCOUVER – The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is breaking the law by not testing B.C. farmed salmon for a virus that has spread like wildfire in Norway and Chile before allowing them to be transferred into ocean pens alongside wild fish.
“According to federal fisheries laws, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is required to ensure that farmed fish are not carrying any harmful diseases or disease agents before he can license their transfer into the ocean,” said Morgan Blakley, Ecojustice lawyer. “The Minister, however, refuses to test farmed salmon for Piscine reovirus. In my opinion, this course of action is illegal and could lead to irreparable damage to British Columbia’s wild salmon stocks.”
Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of independent biologist Alexandra Morton, filed a lawsuit today seeking a court order to force the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to comply with the Fishery (General) Regulations and apply the precautionary principle when approving fish transfer licences.
The Fishery (General) Regulations require the Minister to ensure that farmed fish do not pose a threat to the protection and conservation of wild fish before allowing farmed fish to be transferred into the ocean.
Piscine reovirus is highly contagious and likely causes a disease called heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI). HSMI causes heart damage to salmon that would make it extremely difficult for them to capture prey, swim upstream and spawn or escape predators.
In May 2016, the federal government revealed that HSMI had been found on B.C. salmon farms.
“This fall, with the Fraser sockeye salmon run size at the lowest ever recorded since 1893, the Minister must do all he can to protect wild salmon,” said Alexandra Morton. “Instead the Minister has chosen to turn a blind-eye to his responsibilities, as laid out in the law. We’re here to help him make a better decision. There is no reasonable excuse not to test farmed salmon for Piscine reovirus before they are transferred into pens along Canada’s highly vulnerable wild salmon migration routes.”
Last year Ecojustice lawyers, working on behalf of Alexandra Morton, successfully took the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to court for unlawfully delegating his regulatory responsibilities to fish farm companies.