Marine Harvest responds to ‘Namgis First Nation application for judicial review and injunction

March 14, 2018 – Campbell River, B.C.

On March 6th, Marine Harvest was served with a Notice of Application for judicial review filed by ‘Namgis First Nation challenging Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO’s) licensing of a transfer of salmon from the company’s freshwater hatchery to its Swanson Island ocean-based farm. On March 9th, the company received a motion for injunction to prevent transfer of smolts into its Swanson based on health concerns.   

Marine Harvest will oppose the legal challenge and defend the lawfulness of DFO’s regulatory framework for issuing transfer licences. 

“We have tried many times to engage ‘Namgis leadership in respectful discussions about our business generally and this year’s tenure renewal specifically, without success,” said Vincent Erenst, Managing Director of Marine Harvest Canada. “We are open to discussing all options, including potentially relocating some of our farms.”

“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 of First Nations heritage.”

Erenst added that despite scientific findings that the PRV virus is ubiquitous and occurs naturally in many ocean fish, out of caution the company did test the smolts it is transferring for PRV, and found they do not have the virus. PRV is not listed by DFO as a disease or pathogen of regional, national, or international concern. 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.

Swanson Island farm has been operating for 30 years with all regulatory and permit requirements in place. During this time the tenure permit has been renewed several times after Crown consultation with local First Nations. Application for renewal of the Swanson Island tenure (expiring June 2018) is currently in process and again includes Crown consultation with the ‘Namgis First Nation.

Marine Harvest Canada has a track record of collaboration with First Nation partners – with some agreements dating back 20 years. The company operates within the traditional territories of 24 First Nations and has formal agreements with 15 of these Nations and eight First Nation-owned businesses. Approximately 20 per cent of its workforce is of First Nations heritage. The Marine Harvest farms up for tenure renewal in June provide 150 direct and 150 indirect jobs.

Key Facts:

  • Swanson Island salmon farm tenure and aquaculture licence were issued in 1990, and the farm operates with licenses granted by the Province of B.C. and Canada.
  • The current Provincial tenure licence for Swanson was granted in 2013, after five years of Crown consultation with the ‘Namgis First Nation.
  • Over the past decade, Marine Harvest has collaborated with the ‘Namgis First Nation on science projects, has supplied juvenile salmon to the Nation-owned land-based salmon farm, and continues to seek regular dialogue.
  • In a recent correspondence (January 2017), Marine Harvest requested a meeting to discuss potential research collaboration and observation of work activities. ‘Namgis responded with interest, but noted they were “severely understaffed” and lacked the capacity to participate at the time.
  • DFO issues the Introduction and Transfer Licence under Section 56 of the Fishery (General) Regulations to authorize the transfer and release of live aquatic organisms into fish-bearing waters or fish-rearing facilities in British Columbia.
  • Considerations by DFO for fish introduction or transfer include whether the fish have any disease or disease agent that may be harmful to the protection and conservation of fish. The ‘Namgis application claims that the naturally occurring piscine reovirus (PRV) causes disease. However, DFO reports[i] that all experimental exposures of the B.C. strain of PRV to Pacific and Atlantic salmon in B.C. have failed to induce disease or mortality and does not impair a fish’s performance.
  • A ‘Namgis press release (March 13) incorrectly states that a court ruling “confirmed the Minister of Fisheries and Ocean is prohibited from issuing licenses to transfer fish infected with PRV”. The 2015 Federal Court Order (Morton V. Canada)[ii] did not make this ruling. 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.

[ii] https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/fct/doc/2015/2015fc575/2015fc575.html (clauses 47/48)