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

Aquaculture industry critic welcomes Federal Court ruling on fish farms

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

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

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

VIDEO: ‘Stewie the Starfish’ mascot revealed at Premier League kickoff party

Pacific FC kickoff party scores in Victoria Inner Harbour

Victoria cannabis dispensaries are busy in their first days of legal operation

The Cloud Nine Collective and The Original FARM opened their doors on April 15

Report calls on Saanich to expand multicultural programming at recreation facilities

Report also notes that Saanich could do more for sexual minorities.

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids’ Sake returns to Langford

Annual fundraising event held from April 26 to 28

WATCH: Movie star and PACE alum Calum Worthy talks musical theatre and his career

“American Vandal” and “Austin and Ally” actor has been returning to the program for over 20 years

POLL: How often does your family use BC Ferries?

Navigating the lineups for BC Ferries is a way of life for… Continue reading

Crime Stoppers most wanted for Greater Victoria for the week of April 16

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Deck collapses in Langley during celebration, 35 people injured

Emergency responders rushed to the Langley home

B.C. mom wages battle to get back four kids taken from her in Egypt

Sara Lessing of Mission has help from Abbotsford law firm

VIDEO: Fire guts Peachland home

Crews are still on scene pumping water onto the blaze in the Okanagan neighbourhood

$6K raised in one day’s time for family of woman gunned down in Penticton

GoFundMe launched for family of Darlene Knippelberg, to pay for funeral costs and other expenses

B.C. mountain biker sent home from hospital twice, despite broken vertebrae

Released in Maple Ridge to go home with three fractured vertebrae

Seven tips to travel safely this Easter long weekend

An average of three people are killed, and hundreds more injured, each Easter long weekend in B.C.

Most Read