B.C. First Nations file court case against federal decision not to renew salmon farm licences

The federal government argues the decision not to renew fish farm licences will help protect B.C.'s wild salmon populations from disease. (CBC - image credit)
The federal government argues the decision not to renew fish farm licences will help protect B.C.'s wild salmon populations from disease. (CBC - image credit)

Two B.C. First Nations and a British Columbia salmon farmer company are going to court to challenge the federal government's decision not to renew the licences for its open-net farms off Vancouver Island.

The We Wai Kai Nation (Campbell River Indian Band) and Wei Kai Kum First Nation (Cape Mudge Indian Band) have applied for judicial review of the federal government's decision not to reissue aquaculture licences for seven open-net Atlantic salmon farms found in the territory of the nations (known collectively as the Laich-kwil-tach Nation) in B.C.'s Discovery Islands.

The lawsuit says the decision not to renew the licences was made "in the face of a detailed proposal by the applicants to permit the staged reintroduction of fish farming in the waters within their core title lands."

"By effectively ignoring the applicants' proposal, the Minister unjustifiably excluded the Laich-kwil-tach from the management of their own territories," it said.

The nation says has not determined whether it wants to allow fish farming to proceed, but "it intends to determine for itself if, when, and how the seven chosen farms are operated in the future ... it seeks to make its own decisions" and calls for the federal decision to immediately be reversed as it infringes on "the principles of self-determination and reconciliation."

February decision 'ureasonable, invalid and unlawful'

The federal government is also facing a court challenge from one of the companies affected by the decision. Documents filed in Federal Court in Vancouver by Mowi Canada West ask for a judicial review of the decision last month by Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray to shut down 15 salmon farms.

Mowi's application seeks an order quashing or setting aside Murray's decision to shut down the company's 11 open-net salmon farms located off the Discovery Islands near Campbell River.

It asks the court to have the matter referred back to Murray and a declaration the minister's February decision was "unreasonable, invalid and unlawful.''

The federal government has not responded to the application, but as she announced the decision last month, Murray said recent science indicates uncertainty over the risks fish farms pose to wild salmon, and the government was committed to transitioning away from the open-net farms.

The farms off B.C.'s coast have been a major flashpoint, with environmental groups and some Indigenous nations saying the farms are linked to disease that transfers to wild salmon, while the industry, local politicians and other First Nations say they are safe and the closures threaten thousands of jobs.

"Prior to the decision to eliminate aquaculture in the Discovery Islands region, Mowi had 645 employees in B.C., a significant number of whom were Indigenous,'' says the court application. "Since the minister's decision to prohibit aquaculture in the Discovery Islands, Mowi's workforce has been reduced to 312 employees.''