The Canadian Federal Court in British Columbia, Canada has given the country’s federal fisheries department four months to review and tighten its rules and processes for dealing with the transfer of salmon smolts between hatcheries and ocean net pens.
The ruling came about as a result of a suit launched by a Canadian ENGO, Ecojustice, alleging that Atlantic salmon transferred from a Marine Harvest Canada hatchery on northern Vancouver Island to one of its farms tested positive for the Piscine ReoVirus (PRV).
Prior to the ruling, hatchery veterinarians in the industry had licence from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to decide whether particular groups of hatchery fish should be transferred to the ocean.
The plaintiffs argued that this licence is a conflict with the duty and responsibility DFO has to enforce the Federal Fisheries Act’s regulatory requirement that transferred fish “do not have any disease or disease agent that may be harmful to the protection and conservation of fish.”
Court judge Mr. Justice Donald Rennie agreed with the argument, and ruled that DFO needs to err on the side of caution in its practices of issuing transfer-licence conditions, in order to protect and conserve wild fish and the environment. The federal agency was given four months to review its policies and make appropriate changes.
Marine Harvest’s spokesperson Clare Backman explained that wild and farmed salmon from Washington to Alaska have tested positive with PRV, and have done so since the early 1970s, before salmon farms were established on the coast. It’s ubiquitous in the ocean environment.
Backman also pointed out that the industry already routinely reports to DFO every transfer they’re about to make, and any concerns or issues that may have been identified. This will continue while DFO assesses the protocol in place and what changes need to be made. MHC will comply with any changes DFO makes, Backman added.
– Quentin Dodd