A 2018 file photo shows a fish farm in the Clio Channel northwest of Campbell River. A Federal Court ruling gives the federal government four months to review its policy on piscine orthoreovirus, or PRV.

Alexandra Morton, ‘Namgis First Nation win Federal Court ruling

Department of Fisheries and Oceans has four months to review policy on piscine orthoreovirus

The Federal Court has overturned a Fisheries and Oceans Canada policy that allowed aquaculture companies to transfer juvenile Atlantic salmon into open-net pens without testing them for a virus that could spread to B.C.’s wild chinook populations.

Justice Cecily Strickland ruled that transferring the fish without screening them for piscine orthoreovirus, or PRV, “perpetuates a state of wilful blindness on the part of the (Minister of Fisheries) with respect to the extent of PRV infection in hatcheries and fish farms.”

Marine biologist and outspoken industry critic Alexandra Morton welcomed the ruling, saying the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and provincial scientists have known PRV is affecting chinook salmon for years.

The 199-page decision, which deals with lawsuits brought forward by Morton and ‘Namgis First Nation, gives DFO four months to develop a new policy on PRV. It also states that DFO breached its duty to consult ‘Namgis First Nation about PRV policy.

READ MORE: Cermaq says experimental ‘closed-containment’ fish farm coming to Canadian waters

A statement attributed to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Jonathan Wilkinson said the ruling is being reviewed.

“We take the duty to consult with Indigenous groups very seriously and our government is engaging in meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities and stakeholders to form our policy decisions,” he said in the statement.

He added that “strong, science-based approach to regulating the aquaculture industry is essential and that is why we have and will continue to conduct extensive research which informs our policies and regulation.”

In Atlantic populations, PRV causes a disease known as heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), which Morton described as a temporary condition that tends to heal if the fish aren’t eaten by predators first.

Among Pacific wild fish, the effects of PRV are largely unknown, but research indicates that it causes the cells of wild chinook salmon to burst, leading to organ failure, she said.

A 2018 study led by a DFO scientist found that PRV is linked to a deadly type of anemia in at least one species of wild B.C. salmon.

READ MORE: B.C. to move salmon farms out of coastal migration route

“It causes different diseases in different fish, depending on how the red blood cells behave,” Morton said.

She added that open net-pen fish farms amplify virus populations because there are no natural predators that would cull the infected salmon. The virus then spreads to passing wild populations, she said.

Kegan Pepper-Smith of Ecojustice, who served as legal counsel for Morton, said the court found that DFO’s threshold for acceptable harm to B.C.’s salmon population was too high and that its policy didn’t comply with the precautionary principle.

Pepper-Smith described this as a policy of “look before you leap.”

In this case, it would mean “consider the science regarding the harm caused by PRV and the impacts on wild salmon before you set policies that may be contributing to their precipitous decline,” Pepper-Smith said.

The decision is currently being reviewed by the BC Salmon Farmers’ Association, said Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the group. He added that the organization is looking forward to a PRV risk assessment by the Canadian Scientific Advisory Secretariat that’s currently underway.

“Supporting good science into the health of both wild and farm-raised salmon and working closely with First Nations and coastal communities are cornerstones of responsible salmon farming in B.C.,” he said in an email.

READ MORE: Federal officials showcase ‘health audit’ at fish farm northeast of Campbell River

Morton said that First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago have the authority to screen Atlantic salmon for PRV following a deal with the province announced in December.

That agreement also involves a plan to close 17 Atlantic salmon aquaculture sites in the area, following fish farm occupations by Indigenous people opposed to the industry on their territories.

Those occupations stemmed from “the fear that this industry was wiping out their fish,” she said.

She said PRV screening could dramatically reduce profits in the aquaculture industry, and that inaction by DFO reflects “regulatory capture” – an outsized influence of industry on government.

“If the minister of fisheries follows the law of Canada and screens these fish and does not allow the infected ones to go into the water, I don’t think the fish farm industry has enough fish to keep farming in these waters, and I think that is the crux of the problem,” Morton said.

She said the ruling will encourage companies to move their operations into land-based closed containment facilities.

-With files from Canadian Press


@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Five fun things to do on Family Day in Campbell River

Outside or inside, we’ve got you covered with ideas for both

Campbell River City Council to look at more protection measures for great blue herons

Initial recommendation report came back with a few options, which will now be fleshed out

Campbell River Midget Tyees claim semi-final victory in overtime over Peninsula Eagles

The Campbell River Midget Tyees won their semi-final playoff game at Rod… Continue reading

Campbell River RCMP step up patrols to counteract rise in vehicle break-ins

In the last three weeks, The Campbell River RCMP has seen an… Continue reading

‘Blanket’ secondary suites bylaw for Campbell River stalls after first reading

Suites may be allowed in ‘all new construction’ but possibly not in ‘established neighbourhoods’

VIDEO: Minister reports ‘modest progress’ after blockade talks with First Nation

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say Coastal GasLink does not have authority to go through their lands

Henrique scores 2 as Ducks soar past Canucks 5-1

Vancouver tumbles out of top spot in Pacific Division

Trudeau cancels Caribbean trip amid pipeline protests across Canada

Protests against Coastal GasLink have disrupted rail service

B.C. VIEWS: Inaction on pipeline protests not a viable response

Columnist Frank Bucholtz on how the Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute got so bad

PHOTOS: Top 10 memories of the 2010 Olympics

Black Press Media’s Jenna Hauck, shares some of her most memorable images of 2010 Winter Games

#FoxForFiver: Support grows in B.C. to put Terry Fox on new $5 bill

Terry Fox’ Marathon of Hope raised money for cancer research

Registration opens soon for BC 55+ Games in Richmond

2020 55+ Games have been officially scheduled for Sept. 15 to 19

Trudeau confers with cabinet ministers as rail blockades continue

The Trudeau government has been criticized for not doing more to end the blockades

Canadian nurses’ unions warn national standards for coronavirus protection too low

President says safety protocols nationwide are inadequate compared to those in Ontario and other countries

Most Read