A New Brunswick environmentalist says a ruling by the province's access-to-information commissioner effectively privatizes part of the ocean.
Larry Lack and Lee Ann Ward, residents of the southwestern New Brunswick town of St. Andrews, were denied access to information on sea lice counts at individual salmon farms in the Bay of Fundy.
After a series of discussions with New Brunswick's access to Information commissioner, Anne Bertrand issued a ruling that those details sought by Lack and Ward are proprietary.
"They want to sanitize this by making it private information, Lack said.
Lack was looking for what he calls "hot spots" of sea lice at fish farms. But he now believes there's a larger issue at stake after the commissioner’s ruling.
"They can fence off a piece of the public's ocean and call it theirs and treat it like private property. It's like privatizing something that belongs to all of us," Lack said.
Citizens can use the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act to make requests to the provincial government and a series of other bodies for documents on a specific subject.
If the department or public body denies the applicant that information, they can appeal to either the Court of Queen’s Bench or the information commissioner’s office.
The information sought by Lack and Ward is collected and held by the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries.
Some information about sea lice counts has been made public despite the commissioner's ruling.
The Atlantic Fish Farmers Association released sea lice counts by each of three management areas of the bay claiming more specific information on counts would reveal how many fish each farm has.
"Those fish are actually considered assets, financial assets for the farmer," said Pam Parker, the association’s executive director. The report, which was put on its website, had sea lice counts from 2009 to 2011.
Parker said sea lice counts are tied to fish numbers, so if those numbers were released it would hurt the salmon growers’ ability to compete.