Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Coalition Challenges Feds to Stop Spread of Disease in BC’s Fish

Sierra Legal Defence Fund has filed a formal complaint today with the Auditor General of Canada against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Representing the Georgia Strait Alliance, United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU-CAW) and David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Legal claims that the federal government is neglecting its mandate to protect BC’s wild salmon by failing to prevent the possible spread of disease from salmon farms to wild fish.

The four groups are challenging the federal government to adopt comprehensive, legally binding disease reporting and control procedures for the aquaculture industry, comparable to those of the United States and European countries.

“Sick fish spread disease, and this problem is made worse by the current situation in BC. Millions of farmed salmon in the province have died off from disease epidemics, yet the DFO has done nothing to investigate the probable spread of disease to wild fish stocks,” said Suzanne Connell of the Georgia Strait Alliance. “And because the industry uses open net pens, the spread of disease to wild fish is inevitable.”

When a disease strikes a BC salmon farm, the fish are allowed to remain in the water. The condition can run its course for months, possibly infecting wild salmon migrating past the area. Meanwhile thousands of salmon escape fish farms each year in BC, increasing the risk of spreading disease to wild stocks.

“There’s clear scientific evidence from around the world that wild stocks have been infected by diseases spread from farmed salmon, but the Canadian government is ignoring threats to our fish in BC,” said Sierra Legal Defence Fund Lawyer Sean Nixon. “Canadian fish farmers are not even required to report disease outbreaks to federal authorities, and right now the DFO has no reliable mechanism in place to determine when fish farms might be infecting wild stocks.”

“Disease spread from fish farms could devastate our wild salmon fisheries and hurt coastal communities,” said Fishermen’s Union Vice-president, Garth Mirau. “Back in the early 1990s disease from fish farms wiped out wild stocks in 74 of Norway’s rivers, and we want strong action from government to ensure that could never happen here,” added Mirau.

The coalition of environmental groups is demanding the federal government require fish farmers to remove diseased fish from open net pens when a disease epidemic threatens wild fish. The complainants are also calling for a transition to closed tank fish farms to prevent the spread of disease to wild stocks in the first place. The DFO is obligated to respond.

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