Underwater Sea Farm picture

Virtual injunction hearing for three fish farms

The virtual injunction hearing, for three fish farms in the Discovery Islands, began yesterday.  

Court Challenges

On December 17, 2020, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan announced that no new farmed fish, of any size, can be introduced to the Discovery Islands.

Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada, Grieg Seafood BC and an independent company called 622335 BC Ltd, owned by Saltstream Engineering, are seeking a judicial review to overturn the MInister’s decision.

Margot Venton of Ecojustice, who represents an environmental coalition consisting of the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Living Oceans Society, Watershed Watch, and independent biologist Alexandra Morton, explained, “We don’t imagine that lawsuit will be decided for months because of the time that legal proceedings take.” 

The immediate battle is for a court order permitting MOWI Canada West to transfer juvenile fish to its Phillips Arm and Harwicke fish farms and 622335 B.C. Ltd to restock the Doctor Bay Farm and adjacent hatchery. 

 virtual injunction hearing for three fish farms in the Discovery Islands
Adapted from Google Maps by Roy L Hales

Treatment resistant sea lice? 

Venton explained that one of the DFO’s arguments against this transfer is the possible emergence of treatment resistant sea lice.

“We have no evidence from the monitoring during this outmigration period.  So one of the concerns that DFO raised in its decision statement is the emergence of treatment resistant lice. That is a new issue that the conservation coalition is very concerned about,” she said.

“Even if the risk is small for these additional transfers, the salmon that are migrating out through the Discovery Islands right now and will be again next year between next March and June, are among the most vulnerable cohorts of at least the Fraser Sockeye Salmon. They are the progeny of the lowest return rates ever.” 

She added that salmon are already being forced to deal with factors like the Big Bar landslide and rising ocean temperatures.  

“Their resilience to stress from fish farms, like sea lice transfer, is just all the more reduced. Some of these populations, as we understand, are on the verge of collapse,” said Venton.” 

Sea lice
Sea lice (dark spot on the smolt) on pink salmon in the Broughton Archipeligo – Stan Proboszcz photo

The industry argument

Yesterday the industry’s legal team argued that if they are not permitted to transfer their fish, they will have to be destroyed. They explained how devastating the economic impact could be on their businesses. 

“Those concerns are serious,” conceded Venton, “It is just unfortunate the companies have presented that evidence of seriousness and suggest there are no environmental issues. In fact their argument is that all the other considerations that the Minister may have made are irrelevant, or improper.”    

The Environmental argument

She added that the environmental coalition is concerned that these companies are operating in public waters, but will not even acknowledge the potential risk. That risk should at least be acknowledged and weighed against the harm to them.   

“This is one of the issues that the conservation coalition needs to flag for the court. The very nature of open net salmon farming and scientific knowledge and understanding is one where uncertainty is almost always going to be a factor. Our scientific understanding evolves and what worries us, in this context, is the companies suggestion that all the scientific questions about fish farms have been answered.”    

She will be permitted to speak for half an hour today.  

Most of the proceedings will consist of the DFO’s response.

Campbell River, where MOWI Canada West, Cermaq Canada and Grieg Seafood BC have their local offices – courtesy the city of Campbell River 2019 Annual Report

No Indigenous voice 

Five of the seven First Nations with whose traditional territories are in the Discovery Islands, — the Homalco, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and Kwiakah — sought to speak as intervenors in this case, but their application was denied.  

Is this a violation of indigenous rights? 

Venton said it may be, but that will not be clear until the court explains the rationale behind its decision. 

“Ecojustice and all the member groups of the conservation coalition are quite concerned that the court is deciding this matter without those voices in the courtroom,” she added. 

“The evidence that was before the Minister, that we are all talking about in court, really indicates that the source of the concern about impacts to wild salmon has come loudly and clearly from First Nations. It seems that it would be important for the judge to hear that. There is some evidence of their concerns still on the record in summary form. We are hoping that the judge will pay careful attention to that.”    

Is this a test case?

Venton said injunctions are usually very specific requests and companies have to explain how they will suffer harm if it is not granted.

That said, “There are other farms operating in the Discovery Islands that may wish to go to court and ask to be allowed to transfer fish during the phase out period, which is between now and June 2022.” 

Links of Interest

This program was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative

Top photo credit: underwater photo of sea farm by Tavish Campbell

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