A constitutional challenge of the B.C. government's right to regulate fish farms will be heard this week in the Supreme Court of B.C., after hundreds of British Columbians "adopted" wild salmon fry to fund the case.
Biologist and environmental activist Alexandra Morton says she and her lawyer will argue the federal government was wrong to give up regulatory control of fish farming 20 years ago when it signed a memorandum of understanding with the province.
Morton, who has spent years researching the effects of salmon farms on wild salmon and campaigning to have them moved from B.C.'s coastal waters, raised $60,000 to pay for the court challenge through a $20 Adopt a Fry campaign run online.
"We aren't arguing the science. We're just arguing the jurisdictional issue," said Morton on Sunday. "Should the provincial government have the right to regulate and site the fish farms?"
While the farms may be technically within provincial territory, the farms affect federally managed ocean waters, she said.
"The case is very simple. The federal government is in charge of what is in the oceans, and that includes fish farms," Morton said.
Morton is convinced the waste and parasites that escape from fish farms are threatening wild salmon fry and other sea life.
But the province, which manages fish farming under the Ministry of Agriculture, has always challenged the science behind that assertion.
"When the provincial government releases reports that say fish farms are in complete compliance, it's as if they went and looked at a feed lot," said Morton. "Feedlots belong under quarantine conditions in closed containment," she said.
Now she wants the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to take the job back, she said.
"The whole issue of what is happening in our oceans is being ignored," she said. "They are affecting wild fish."
Time running out, Morton says
"You just don't know where extinction is, but I can tell you we're getting closer," said Morton. "If we want wild salmon, we've got to deal with this right away, actually before next spring."
BC Salmon Farmers Association spokeswoman Mary Ellen Walling said the industry complies with strict regulations under both the provincial and federal government.
"We have the toughest regulations in the world…. We operate farms responsibly and sustainably," she said on Monday morning.
B.C.'s minister of agriculture would not comment on the case, saying it's before the courts.