VANCOUVER – Ecojustice lawyers will be in Federal Court this week on behalf of Alexandra Morton, an independent biologist who is suing the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for his failure to test farmed salmon for piscine orthoreovirus, or PRV, before allowing companies to transfer the fish into open-net pens along wild salmon migration routes.

The court will also hear a separate but related case brought by the ‘Namgis Nation, over the course of a five-day hearing that begins today in Vancouver.

“Pacific wild salmon are an invaluable part of the coastal ecosystems where they swim, feed and spawn, and they are a central part of many First Nations’ cultures. The minster’s policy puts farm salmon ahead of wild salmon which face unacceptable risk, and this must be stopped,” Morton said.

PRV, a virus, is present in up to 80 per cent of farmed Atlantic salmon in British Columbia.

A recent study also suggests that while PRV weakens Atlantic salmon, it poses a severe threat to Pacific salmon. Researchers reported that exposure to the virus caused blood cells in Chinook salmon to burst “en masse,” resulting in liver and kidney damage, anemia, and death. Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist, co-authored the paper, which was published in a peer-reviewed journal in the spring of 2018.

Section 56 of the Fishery (General) Regulations, states that the minister cannot issue a transfer licence if the fish to be transferred “have any disease or disease agent that may be harmful to the protection and conservation of fish.”

Despite this, Minister Jonathan Wilkinson continues to grant transfer licences to fish farm operators without requiring PRV-screening prior to transfer into open net pens in the Pacific Ocean.

“As the minister responsible for protecting wild salmon, Minister Wilkinson must take a precautionary approach to managing fish farms,” Ecojustice lawyer Kegan Pepper-Smith said. “Wild salmons stocks are in serious decline, and coastal communities, ecosystems and economies cannot afford for the government to play fast and loose with the health of this species.”

Pacific wild salmon are considered a keystone species and feed more than 100 other species, including endangered orcas. Salmon are also an icon of the Pacific Northwest and an important part of First Nations diet and culture.

About 120 fish farms currently operate off the coast of British Columbia. They face ongoing opposition from many First Nations, Vancouver Island municipalities, scientists and members of the public who say they violate First Nations rights and put wild salmon at risk.

Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, goes to court to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all.

Alexandra Morton is an independent biologist who has spent more than 30 years studying the impact of salmon farms on wild salmon and fighting to protect the wild species.

Ecojustice first went to court on behalf of Morton in 2013, when it successfully argued that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans could not pass legal responsibilities to regulate fish farms off to the very companies the minister is supposed to oversee.