The BC government is wrongly claiming that commercial secrecy comes before the public’s right to know about the extent of sea lice infestations in salmon farms, according to a submission to the Information Commissioner just filed by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) on behalf of the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation (TBSEF).
“The impacts of fish farming are a matter of concern to many British Columbians and the public has a right to this
information,” said David Lane, Executive Director of T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation.
The legal submission is the latest in a four-year freedom of information battle. In August 2004, the Foundation requested records of sea lice infestations prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, based on information gathered during visits to salmon farms. The Ministry refused to hand over these records, arguing that any observations made by government staff during the farm visits were subject to secrecy laws governing commercial information.
In the submission to BC’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ecojustice and TBSEF point out that such data must be fully accessible by the public to facilitate independent scientific inquiry and ensure proper public oversight. The weight of scientific evidence indicates that sea lice from salmon farms may lead to the extinction of some wild salmon runs in the Broughton Archipelago.
“The BC government has assured the public that salmon farms are not harming wild salmon, yet it refuses to release the data that would allow the public to judge that position, and does not even want the public to know results of environmental sampling conducted by public servants,” said Ecojustice Staff Lawyer Randy Christensen.
“Are these operations spreading disease and parasites into our natural waters? If so, what is the magnitude of the problem and what can be done about it? The government data would help us answer these urgent questions,” added Ecojustice Executive Director Devon Page.
Although the largest salmon farm operator in the Broughton, Marine Harvest, has voluntarily released some of its sea lice data, the second largest operator, Mainstream, has consistently refused. David Lane will travel to Norway next week to meet with Mainstream’s parent company, Cermaq, asking for a review of its environmental record, proper engagement with stakeholders and an end to its secrecy on sea lice and disease on its BC farms. Cermaq’s operations in Norway are required by law to make public sea lice infestation levels on its farms.