The Strange Case of DFO Abdicating Its Legal Responsibilities

Rossland Telegraph
By Rossland Telegraph
May 25th, 2016

Many of us eat  salmon and other fish here in Rossland too, far from the sea — whether it’s fresh fish bought at Ferraro Foods, or canned.  For that reason and many others, we should be concerned about the health of BC’s fish populations.  Strangely, the federal government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), charged by federal law with safeguarding the habitat and health of fish, has acted in ways that are very likely to directly harm wild fish, and don’t do farmed fish any good either.

 Wild salmon are a keystone species in B.C.’s marine ecosystems. In many communities, they are an integral part of life for ecological, cultural and sustenance purposes.


DFO enacted licensing provisions which allowed aquaculture (fish-farming) corporations to decide whether to transfer fish carrying diseases into open-net fish-farm pens. Biologist Alexandra Morton challenged the DFO over those provisions in a court case, and argued that this practice could put wild salmon at risk and that it undermined the Fisheries Act.  Ecojustice lawyers represented Morton in the lawsuit.

Morton won the case, but the government and Marine Harvest appealed the ruling.

An appeal hearing was set for May 26, 2016, but it has since been adjourned until a later time.  

Ecojustice lawyer Margot Venton and biologist Alexandra Morton issued the following statement about the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announcement indicating that Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) is in B.C. farmed salmon: 

Alexandra Morton, biologist, said:

“(This) announcement emphasizes the urgent need to get these farmed fish out of our oceans – otherwise the millions of farmed Atlantic salmon in pens along the B.C coast could have a catastrophic impact on Pacific wild salmon.  Since HSMI was first diagnosed in Norway, there have been outbreaks throughout the salmon farms in that region.  Piscine Reovirus (PRV) is very contagious and has also spread to almost all farmed fish in Norway.  

“When I discovered PRV in B.C. farmed salmon in 2012 and raised the alarm, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the industry were adamant that the virus is harmless.

“One week before DFO was to join Marine Harvest as co-appellants in a lawsuit regarding transfer of diseased farmed salmon into pens on the B.C. coast DFO asked for an adjournment.  In light of today’s announcement, I applaud the government for listening to the science. Now it is time for DFO to get these sick fish out of the water and minimize the spread of HSMI before it is too late.

“This disease causes severe lethargy and weakness, ultimately robbing fish of their ability to swim upstream to spawn. HSMI in BC farmed salmon could be a death sentence to wild Pacific salmon.”

Margot Venton, Ecojustice lawyer, added:

“This discovery underscores why the Department of Fisheries and Oceans must live up to its legal obligation to protect wild salmon. The department unlawfully passed off its regulatory responsibilities to aquaculture corporations, and the spread of HSMI is the result.

“This outbreak of disease happened right under its nose.

“We now call on the new federal government step up and protect B.C.’s wild salmon — it’s the law.”


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