HANNA PETERSEN PHOTO Premier John Horgan met with the ‘Namgis First Nation last summer at their Big House in Alert Bay to discuss issues regarding aquaculture.

Morton and ‘Namgis First Nation attend court hearings on aquaculture

“Wild salmon are vital to ecosystems, the coastal economy, and First Nations communities.”

Alexandra Morton and the ‘Namgis First Nation are attending court this week, Sept. 10 to 14, to make their legal case.

Morton, an activist raising awareness on potential impacts of salmon farms located in BC, recently filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The second application for the lawsuit was made on the grounds of DFO’s Fishery General Regulation, section 56. Section 56 (b), the basis for the lawsuit, outlines when the Minister may issue a licence to release or transfer fish under the condition the fish do not have any disease that may be harmful to fisheries conservation.

Other conditions include release or transfer when it meets fisheries management regulation or when it will not have any adverse effect on stock size.

At the same time, the ‘Namgis also sued DFO along with Marine Harvest. The nation hopes the parallel case will stop the release or transfer of farmed fish found having disease agents into their traditional territory.

Roughly 130, almost exclusively Atlantic salmon, aquaculture fish farms operate within BC’s coastline. There are 740 aquaculture operations in BC producing salmon, other finfish and shellfish during the year. The ‘Namgis First Nation, represented by Vancouver-based law firm Gowling WLG, filed the lawsuit in direct opposition to the half-billion-dollar industry, which currently operates a few net pens within the nation’s traditional territory.

Ecojustice, an environmental law charity, and their legal team of three represent Morton in her lawsuit against DFO. In their case status report, Ecojustice states they “think the Minister’s actions are illegal. And we believe that government should take a precautionary approach when issuing a transfer license for farmed salmon to protect wild salmon. Wild salmon are vital to ecosystems, the coastal economy, and First Nations communities.”

If successful, the lawsuit would require DFO to test for disease or disease agents on farmed fish before issuing a transfer license, but it will not stop the release or transfer of farmed fish altogether.

Over the course of a five-day hearing in Vancouver, the court will have heard cases brought forward by Morton and ‘Namgis.

BC has formalized the process for ongoing discussion with ‘Namgis, Kwakwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation (Gilford Island) and Mamalilikulla First Nation (Village Island). The province has issued letters of understanding with the three nations regarding aquaculture in the Broughton Archipelago. BC’s discussions with First Nations will develop consensus recommendations within a 90-day period.

The industry creates nearly 6,000 jobs and results in one-fourth of a million dollars in wages for BC residents. Aquaculture in BC accounts for more than half of the total aquaculture production in the country.

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