‘Namgis First Nation is taking legal action in an effort to prevent Marine Harvest from restocking their Swanson Island fish farm site.
“Marine Harvest is preparing to restock their Swanson Island fish farm approximately 16km east of Alert Bay (‘Namgis Territory) with Atlantic salmon despite ‘Namgis strenuous objection and lack of consent,” states a March 13 ‘Namgis press release.
“On Friday we filed for an injunction to prevent them from restocking, pending the resolution for judicial review,” explained ‘Namgis Elected Chief Don Svanvik.
He said the legal action comes after repeated attempts from ‘Namgis First Nation to contact the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans regarding the issue, and not receiving a response.
“Nobody would listen to us – noddy would answer our letters, so the only option left to us was legal,” said Svanvik.
On March 9, ‘Namgis filed for an interlocutory injunction to prevent the Minister of Fishers and Oceans from issuing a licence that allows the transfer of smolts (juvenile salmon) into Marine Harvests net-pens in without first being tested for piscine reovisrus (PRV).
This follows the March 6 filing of a ‘Notice of Application’ seeking a judicial review of the of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans policy as it does not require testing for PRV in farmed Atlantic salmon prior to transferring smolts into net pens in ‘Namgis territory.
The ‘Namgis press release also references the 2015 Federal Court ruling, Morton V. Canada, which they state prohibited the issuing of licenses to transfer fish infected with PRV.
“Despite the Minister abandoning the appeal of Morton V. Canada, the Minister refuses to comply with the 2015 ruling and continues to unlawfully approve transfers of fish without even testing for PRV,” states the release.
Research has shown that PRV is associated with Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) in salmon, a disease that can be fatal as it reduces their ability to evade predators and return to their spawning grounds.
However, the ‘Namgis press release notes that “despite the legal prohibition on transferring PRV infected smolts into the marine environment both the Minister and Marine Harvest claim that PRV does no danger to wild salmon.”
“The fundamental part is that we have a ministry in our country not adhering to a law by federal court and that is a slippery slope – that we have different ministries that can ignore the law,” said Svanvik, adding “Regardless of what side of this issue you are on that has got to be concerning.”
In a March 14 press release, Marine Harvest said the ‘Namgis interpretation of the 2015 ruling was inocrrect stating that “The Court chose not to rule as to whether fish that are PRV positive should be transferred and did not arbitrate on the PRV/HSMI debate.”
Marine Harvest also confirmed they will oppose the legal challenge and defend the lawfulness of DFO’s regulatory framework for issuing transfer licences.
“It is concerning that the ‘Namgis are resorting to legal action rather than discussion, and misinterpreting what science tells us about PRV as the basis of a legal challenge that attempts to interrupt our business and put people out of work, some of them people of First Nations heritage,” said Vincent Ernest Managing Director of Marine Harvest Canada, in the release.
Marine Harvest also noted that as “required by the transfer licence, the salmon destined for Swanson farm have recently been screened for health by third-party laboratories and confirmed disease-free and healthy.”
The hearing for the injunction motion is set for next Tuesday March 20 and Wednesday March 21.
This story has been updated with comment from Marine Harvest. Check back with the Gazette for updates as this story progresses.