A 2018 file photo shows a fish farm in the Clio Channel, off the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. A Federal Court ruling gives the federal government four months to review its policy on piscine orthoreovirus, or PRV.

Aquaculture industry critic welcomes Federal Court ruling on fish farms

Department of Fisheries and Oceans has four months to review policy on piscine orthoreovirus

The Federal Court has overturned a Fisheries and Oceans Canada policy that allowed aquaculture companies to transfer juvenile Atlantic salmon into open-net pens without testing them for a virus that could spread to B.C.’s wild chinook populations.

Justice Cecily Strickland ruled that transferring the fish without screening them for piscine orthoreovirus, or PRV, “perpetuates a state of wilful blindness on the part of the (Minister of Fisheries) with respect to the extent of PRV infection in hatcheries and fish farms.”

Marine biologist and outspoken industry critic Alexandra Morton welcomed the ruling, saying the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and provincial scientists have known PRV is affecting chinook salmon for years.

The 199-page decision, which deals with lawsuits brought forward by Morton and ‘Namgis First Nation, gives DFO four months to develop a new policy on PRV. It also states that DFO breached its duty to consult ‘Namgis First Nation about PRV policy.

READ MORE: Cermaq says experimental ‘closed-containment’ fish farm coming to Canadian waters

A statement attributed to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Jonathan Wilkinson said the ruling is being reviewed.

“We take the duty to consult with Indigenous groups very seriously and our government is engaging in meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities and stakeholders to form our policy decisions,” he said in the statement.

He added that “strong, science-based approach to regulating the aquaculture industry is essential and that is why we have and will continue to conduct extensive research which informs our policies and regulation.”

In Atlantic populations, PRV causes a disease known as heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), which Morton described as a temporary condition that tends to heal if the fish aren’t eaten by predators first.

Among Pacific wild fish, the effects of PRV are largely unknown, but research indicates that it causes the cells of wild chinook salmon to burst, leading to organ failure, she said.

A 2018 study led by a DFO scientist found that PRV is linked to a deadly type of anemia in at least one species of wild B.C. salmon.

READ MORE: B.C. to move salmon farms out of coastal migration route

“It causes different diseases in different fish, depending on how the red blood cells behave,” Morton said.

She added that open net-pen fish farms amplify virus populations because there are no natural predators that would cull the infected salmon. The virus then spreads to passing wild populations, she said.

Kegan Pepper-Smith of Ecojustice, who served as legal counsel for Morton, said the court found that DFO’s threshold for acceptable harm to B.C.’s salmon population was too high and that its policy didn’t comply with the precautionary principle.

Pepper-Smith described this as a policy of “look before you leap.”

In this case, it would mean “consider the science regarding the harm caused by PRV and the impacts on wild salmon before you set policies that may be contributing to their precipitous decline,” Pepper-Smith said.

The decision is currently being reviewed by the BC Salmon Farmers’ Association, said Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the group. He added that the organization is looking forward to a PRV risk assessment by the Canadian Scientific Advisory Secretariat that’s currently underway.

“Supporting good science into the health of both wild and farm-raised salmon and working closely with First Nations and coastal communities are cornerstones of responsible salmon farming in B.C.,” he said in an email.

READ MORE: Federal officials showcase ‘health audit’ at fish farm

Morton said that First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago have the authority to screen Atlantic salmon for PRV following a deal with the province announced in December.

That agreement also involves a plan to close 17 Atlantic salmon aquaculture sites in the area, following fish farm occupations by Indigenous people opposed to the industry on their territories.

Those occupations stemmed from “the fear that this industry was wiping out their fish,” she said.

She said PRV screening could dramatically reduce profits in the aquaculture industry, and that inaction by DFO reflects “regulatory capture” – an outsized influence of industry on government.

“If the minister of fisheries follows the law of Canada and screens these fish and does not allow the infected ones to go into the water, I don’t think the fish farm industry has enough fish to keep farming in these waters, and I think that is the crux of the problem,” Morton said.

She said the ruling will encourage companies to move their operations into land-based closed containment facilities.

-With files from Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

B.C. Transit saves $300,000, scores 28 used fareboxes idle in California

‘Someone joked maybe we can buy used fareboxes on eBay,’ CEO says

PHOTOS: City of Colwood hosts a ‘heartwarming start’ to the holidays

Colwood Christmas Light Up Celebration sees surge in attendance

Local LGBTQ+ advocate welcomes Sidney’s decision to recognize Pride Week

Sidney announced its decision in the Town’s updated strategic plan

Trauma sufferers support group takes shape on West Shore

Aaron’s Society open to more peer support groups with certified trauma practitioners

Hundreds of students gather at Government House to decorate Christmas Trees

The annual tradition let Grade 2 and 3 students help celebrate for the holidays

VIDEO: John Lennon’s iconic Rolls Royce rolls into Camosun College for checkup

Royal BC Museum, Camosun College and Carriageworks Restorations come together to care for car

POLL: Will you be donating to charities over the holiday season?

Many here in Victoria joined others around the world to take part… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 3

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

VIDEO: Rockslide closes part of Highway 93 in Fairmont Hot Springs

Geotechnical team called in to do an assessment after rocks fell from hoodoos

Petition calls for appeal of ex-Burns Lake mayor’s sentence for sex assault

Prosecution service says Luke Strimbold’s case is under review

Northwest B.C. wildlife shelter rescues particularly tiny bear cub

Shelter co-founder says the cub weighs less than a third of what it should at this time of year

BC firefighters to help battle Australian bushfires

Canada sent 22 people, including 7 from B.C.

B.C. NDP touts the end of MSP premiums

Horgan, James held news conference to reiterate that people will get their last bill this month

Oscar Hickes: Longest running hockey tournament on Vancouver Island cancelled

Patrick Murray, one of the organizers for the tournament, broke the sad news on social media.

Most Read