Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on September 14, 2017 (updated: September 15, 2017)

Runaway salmon: Escaped fish highlight open-net farming risks

Devon PageLawyer
Wild salmon swims upstream

Recent news stories highlight the public’s well-founded concerns about the risks that open-net fish farms pose to the marine environment.

In August, we were alarmed when net cages containing 305,000 Atlantic farm salmon broke apart at a fish farm in the San Juan Islands, Washington. Thousands of escaped fish swam away, some as far as Tofino, B.C., off the west coast of Vancouver Island. To make matters worse, the incident occurred during spawning season, and at a time when early Fraser River sockeye runs are lower than expected.

Accidents such as this amplify concerns about potentially irreversible impacts to wild fish stocks through disease transfer, not to mention competition and predation.

Members of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis and ‘Namgis First Nations have long been concerned that pathogens and sea lice from B.C. fish farms are decimating wild salmon and herring populations, which sustain their cultures and traditional way of life . That’s why they have occupied two B.C. fish farms off the north coast of Vancouver Island since late August. They have a straightforward demand: Stop open-net fish farming in their territorial waters.

Our client, biologist Alexandra Morton, has been travelling with these Indigenous leaders aboard the Martin Sheen, a boat owned by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. While she is not participating directly in the occupations, Alex stands in solidarity with these First Nations.

Her commitment to wild salmon protection has meant a busy summer for her and us.

Together, we’re taking the Minster of Fisheries and Oceans to court over the Minister’s refusal to test farm salmon for Piscine Reovirus (PRV) before allowing them to be transferred to open-net ocean pens, where they risk infecting wild salmon.

This litigation has already been a grueling fight, much like the journey wild salmon make to spawn each fall. In July, the government and Cermaq — one of the two fish farm companies that successfully applied to be a party to the litigation — attempted to have our case dismissed. We successfully blocked these motions. Now we’re fighting to get important evidence before the court.

It is clear that the Minister’s refusal to test farm salmon for PRV sets us on a risky trajectory that unnecessarily endangers wild salmon.

Recently published research by Norwegian scientists confirms that PRV causes Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) — a disease that causes morbidity, including inability to eat and swim. In 2016, government scientists publicly announced that HSMI had been diagnosed in a B.C. fish farm.

As tough as this legal fight has been, Alex and the Ecojustice team are not giving up.  And thankfully, we have you on our side.  You know that going to court to protect wild salmon is nothing new for us. This lawsuit is a sequel to previous litigation, in which the Federal Court sent a strong message that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a duty to protect wild salmon.

Thanks to your ongoing support, and the support of our generous donor Team Nickerrson RE/MAX Real Estate Services, we’re going to keep fighting to ensure the Minister fulfills that duty.

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