B.C. Court Puts Salmon Farms Under Federal Rule


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
February 9, 2009

The British Columbia Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the provincial government’s regulation of salmon farms is unlawful and that the federal government now has jurisdiction over the industry.

Fish inside farms are now to be regulated as a fishery, not an agricultural crop, thereby eliminating any private rights to the waters in use.

Lead petitioner Alexandra Morton, a marine biologist and environmental activist, says the court’s ruling means the government agency in charge of fish farms will put the interests of wild salmon first. Morton has long criticized salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago area north of Vancouver Island for their impact on wild salmon stocks.

“This has come none too soon as provincial management of fish farms is devastating many coastal communities,” said Morton. “Because the province is not responsible for the oceans, the impact of fish farms on the oceans became nobody's business and this is how we got into this mess."

Morton filed the suit against the provincial government and Marine Harvest Canada, a Norway-based company that represents roughly half of the province’s farmed salmon production of approximately 80,000 metric tons annually. Marine Harvest has committed to operational changes including migration corridors in the Broughton Archipelago area to limit the farms’ impact on wild stocks.

Co-petitioners in the suit included the Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society, the Wilderness Tourism Association, the Southern Area Gillnetters Association and the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association of British Columbia. The province has 30 days to file an appeal.

Last week, the Kwicksutaineuk and Ah-Kwa-Mish First Nation (KAFN) filed a class-action lawsuit against the British Columbia provincial government, claiming open-ocean net pens holding thousands of fish have unduly harmed wild salmon and their way of life. The government is responsible for the decline in pink salmon stocks, says KAFN, for authorizing 29 salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago region.

The KAFN suit was timed to coincide with the release of the B.C. Pacific Salmon Forum’s final report on improving the economic, social and environmental sustainability of both wild and farmed salmon. The forum’s 95-page report recommended an ecosystem-based approach that would establish sea lice impact levels on wild salmon and limit production of farmed salmon to 18,500 metric tons annually in Broughton Archipelago.

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