Protecting wild salmon in B.C.’s Discovery Islands

Intervening in Mowi Canada West Inc v Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Photo by CaliforniaDFW under CC BY 2.0
Program area – Nature Status: In progress
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Ecojustice lawyers — representing David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Living Oceans Society, Watershed Watch, and independent biologist Alexandra Morton — are appearing before the Federal Court to support a decision by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to phase out salmon farms in B.C.’s Discovery Islands by 2022.

In December 2020, Minister Bernadette Jordan announced that all fish farms in the Discovery Islands would be phased out by June 2022, when their renewed 18-month licences expire, and no new fish would be transferred into the farms in the meantime. The Minister said the decision resulted from consultations with the Homalco, Tla’amin, Klahoose, K’ómoks, Kwaikah, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum Nations, who expressed concern about the impact of fish farms on wild salmon stocks.

In January 2021, four fish farm companies operating in the area filed a lawsuit challenging the Minister’s decision. In March, the Federal Court granted an injunction to two companies, Mowi and a numbered company, allowing them to apply to transfer fish into three open-net fish farms in the Discovery Islands despite the Minister’s announcement that there would be no more transfers in the area.

In June, Ecojustice lawyers argued in court again that another company should not be granted an injunction. This time, the Federal Court denied Cermaq’s request to transfer 1.5 million Atlantic salmon into open-net pens in the Discovery Islands, a major win for the depleted salmon stocks that migrate through the region.

In October 2021, we will intervene on behalf of our clients to support Minister Jordan’s decision in the main lawsuit on this matter, arguing that this decision is supported by a precautionary approach to the management and protection of wild salmon.

This case builds on a long history of Ecojustice efforts to protect wild salmon.

Ecojustice lawyers presented key evidence in the 2012 Cohen Commission, which concluded that salmon farms along sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and exacerbate endemic diseases that negatively impact wild salmon. Ecojustice’s team has also previously represented Alexandra Morton in other cases, winning legal decisions to protect wild salmon from piscine orthoreovirus and increase government oversight of fish farms.

Phasing out fish farms would have significant positive impacts on migrating wild salmon populations and the environmental health of the Discovery Islands region, and would respond to the concerns that local First Nations raised in consultation.

What would a win mean?

If Ecojustice and its clients are successful, the Minister’s decision to phase out open-net fish farms in the Discovery Islands will be upheld and these farms — which create risks of spreading contagious diseases, viruses, and parasites to vulnerable wild salmon — will no longer operate in the region.

A victory would also set an important precedent for future cases, as the Federal government works to fulfill its promise to phase out open-net fish farming in B.C. by 2025.

Key developments

Press release

Environmental organizations, scientist, back in court to keep open-net fish farms out of Discovery Islands

Phase-out decision was made after First Nations raised concerns about the impact of salmon farms on declining wild salmon stocks VA...

October 19, 2021

Press release

Federal Court denies fish farm company’s injunction request to transfer fish into Discovery Islands, Ecojustice reacts

VANCOUVER/UNCEDED xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Skwxwú7mesh (SQUAMISH) AND səlil̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ/Selilwitulh (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) TERRITORIES...

July 5, 2021

Press release

Federal court grants injunction to fish farm companies, Ecojustice reacts

VANCOUVER/UNCEDED xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (SQUAMISH) AND səlilwətaɬ (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) TERRITORIES – In a disapp...

April 6, 2021

Press release

Environmental organizations, scientist, in court to fight for fish farm phase out in Discovery Islands

VANCOUVER/UNCEDED xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (SQUAMISH) AND səlilwətaɬ (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) TERRITORIES – On behalf o...

March 24, 2021

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January 26, 2021

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Federal government announces 18-month phase out of fish farms in Discovery Islands, Ecojustice reacts

VANCOUVER/UNCEDED xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Skwxwú7mesh (SQUAMISH) AND səlil̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ/Selilwitulh (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) TERRITORIES...

December 17, 2020

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Failure to close open-net fish farms in the Discovery Islands puts wild salmon at increased risk

VANCOUVER – Kegan Pepper-Smith, Ecojustice lawyer, issued the following statement in regards to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Bernadet...

September 29, 2020

Press release

Ecojustice urges Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to close fish farms in the Discovery Islands

VANCOUVER – Ecojustice lawyer, Kegan Pepper-Smith made the following statement about the Cohen Commission’s recommendation for the Minis...

September 1, 2020

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