Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on September 4, 2014 (updated: February 17, 2015)

We’re challenging DFO’s fishy practices

Margot VentonLawyer

Here’s a scenario: Rather than regulate fish farm transfers itself, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is standing by and letting fish farm companies decide to put farmed fish carrying disease agents into the Pacific Ocean.

Seems a little reckless doesn’t it? And yet, this is what’s happening on B.C.’s coast. In 2013, DFO granted 123 aquaculture licences to fish farm companies that allow them to transfer farmed fish carrying disease agents into waters shared with wild fish.

We don’t think this is right.

DFO has a mandate to protect wild fish and the marine environment. Our position is that federal fisheries law requires DFO to regulate transfers, and by granting these licences, DFO has effectively abandoned that responsibility.

That’s why my colleague Lara Tessaro and I are in Federal Court this week, arguing that these licences are unlawful and must be struck down. We’re representing Alexandra Morton, a B.C. biologist, as we seek a court order that quashes these licences and declares that DFO is solely responsible for making decisions about the transfer of fish to farms.

We launched this case last May, after Ms. Morton learned that farmed Atlantic salmon infected with the piscine reovirus (PRV) had been transferred into an open-pen fish farm operated by Marine Harvest in Shelter Bay, B.C., located along the Fraser River sockeye migration route.

The weight of scientific evidence links PRV to Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), a severe disease that affects the muscles and heart of salmon. HSMI has caused huge losses for fish farmers in Norway and we do not know what the impact of introducing the Norwegian strain of PRV into Canadian waters will be. Given that we still know very little about PRV in Pacific waters, we should err on the side of caution when it comes to decisions that expose our wild fish and marine ecosystems to this virus. At the very least, DFO — NOT fish farms — should be making these decisions.

We also want to take this opportunity to say thanks.

Without your support Ecojustice wouldn’t be able to help Alexandra Morton take this critical matter before the court. A win in this case will send a strong message to DFO, reminding it that it must uphold its duty to Canadians and the environment by taking its role as an industry regulator seriously.

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