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Environment Canada did not follow its own rules in approving commercial production of genetically-modified salmon by AquaBounty, allege the Ecology Action Centre and the Living Oceans Society. (AquaBounty)

Environmental groups are taking Ottawa to court over its approval of commercial production of AquaBounty's genetically-modified salmon.

Halifax's Ecology Action Centre and B.C.'s Living Oceans Society say Environment Canada did not follow its own rules when it approved commercial production for AquaBounty. That approval was made two months ago, opening up the possibility of more work at AquaBounty's P.E.I. plant, which has been operating as an experimental facility.

The salmon from AquaBounty's genetically-modified eggs grow at twice the rate of regular salmon, making them potentially lucrative as farmed fish. The company has been seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for years to sell the fish as food in the States. It would be the first genetically-modified food animal to win approval.

AquaBounty has said its plan is to produce the eggs in P.E.I. and export them to Panama to be grown into market-size fish. Commercial egg production in Canada and export approval from Environment Canada is crucial to the business plan.

The court challenge could derail that plan.

Salmon could be invasive, say groups

The court documents allege the federal government failed to obtain and assess all the information legally required to make a decision under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Tanya Nayler, a lawyer EcoJustice, which is helping with the lawsuit, told CBC News testing should have been done to show the potential invasiveness of AquaBounty salmon, if they escape.

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In a written statement AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish said he is confident the lawsuit will be found to be without merit. ((Charles Dharapak/Associated Press))

"The concern is if there's a release into the environment it's not possible to say at this point in time whether this new species of salmon could become invasive in the environment," said Nayler.

According to a DFO risk assessment, AquaBounty asked for a waiver to not have to provide this information, because the fish are in a contained facility. But court documents say that waiver must be published by the environment minister, something the lawsuit alleges never happened.

The court documents also highlight concerns about the ultimate plans in Canada for the fish. The Environment Canada approval allows for hatching and grow out of the fish at a contained facility in Canada, as long as adult fish are killed before they leave the plant.

The groups claim growing fish to adult-size was not reviewed in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans risk assessment of the P.E.I. plant, and should not be allowed without further review.

"The actions of the two groups to which you refer are of course disappointing to AquaBounty," said company CEO Ron Stotish in a written statement.

"I am confident their claims will be shown to be completely without merit."

Environment Canada refused to comment, saying the issue is before the courts.