The ‘Namgis people near Alert Bay are headed to court seeking a review of a Department of Fisheries and Oceans decision they say will put wild B.C. salmon at risk of infection with a dangerous virus.
The ‘Namgis First Nation filed an application on Monday seeking a judicial review of an Oct. 3 decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow open-net fish farms to be stocked with Atlantic salmon that have not been tested for the presence of piscine orthoreovirus, or PRV.
“Somebody has to speak for the salmon,” said Chief Don Svanvik, elected chief and councillor for the 1,800-strong ‘Namgis people. “This isn’t just a fight for Indigenous people. This is a fight for all British Columbians and all Canadians, for that matter.”
No hearings or court sessions have been scheduled.
PRV is known to cause inflammation of the heart and muscles of Atlantic salmon. The ‘Namgis people say an open-net fish farm stocked with PRV-infected Atlantic salmon would pose an infection risk to Pacific salmon swimming nearby.
But in a statement emailed from Ottawa, the Fisheries Department said PRV-1 is actually a B.C. strain, so testing is not necessary.
The emailed statement also said the Fisheries Department employs what it calls “adaptive management” when overseeing aquaculture.
That means the department can reconsider its policy on PRV whenever new information becomes available.
The ‘Namgis argue no evidence of any strain of the virus unique to B.C. has ever been produced.
Svanvik said at the very least, the Fisheries Department should be applying the precautionary principle and not doing introducing something to the B.C. marine environment until it can be shown to be harmless.
“We have some of the best people in the world working with us and they say at the very least we should be going with the precautionary principle,” he said. “Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not listening.”