DFO Fails to Protect Salmon, Again

October 3, 2019

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has again failed to protect wild salmon by refusing to prohibit transfers of Atlantic salmon infected with the Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) into fish farms along the migratory routes of wild salmon.

Two previous Federal Court decisions found that DFO’s management of the risk posed by PRV  failed to adhere to the precautionary principle, as embodied by s. 56 of the Fishery (General) Regulations.  In the most recent case, the Federal Court also found that DFO did not adequately consider the protection and conservation of wild fish and failed to consult ‘Namgis on its policy to test for PRV before placing farmed Atlantic salmon in the ocean.

“The decision by DFO is another sad day for wild salmon” says Chief Don Svanvik, ‘Namgis First Nation, “another policy that fails to protect wild salmon from the potential harm from the Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV).”

After being ordered by the Federal Court to reconsider its policy on PRV, DFO returns with substantially the same policy.  It will test for the supposed Icelandic and Norwegian strains of PRV, but not the “BC strain”, and will not prohibit transfers of fish infected with PRV.  There are currently no published reports of a BC strain of PRV and DFO failed to produce any evidence of a BC strain during consultations with ‘Namgis.

The decision today is about delay, not action. There is no regulatory action proposed when positive PRV smolts are detected.  Effectively, DFO’s reconsidered policy allows DFO to avoid testing for the PRV that fish farms in BC are known to have.

PRV is known to cause HSMI, a heart disease that has been diagnosed on BC fish farms, and is associated with a disease which causes the red blood cells of Pacific salmon to rupture.

“DFO will continue to allow smolts infected with a disease agent to be transferred into the ocean” asserts Chief Svanvik, “while wild salmon head for extinction.”

Despite an agreement to consult with ‘Namgis, DFO repeatedly failed to provide materials, did not provide adequate capacity funding and refused to bring scientists to meet with ‘Namgis. The ‘Namgis First Nation assembled its own team of experts and provided DFO with a comprehensive critique of DFO’s policy, science, oversight and failure to adhere to the precautionary principle.

“In light of the collapse of salmon runs throughout the Province, ‘Namgis diligently undertook the task of consultation supported by expert scientists, but unfortunately DFO simply didn’t want to hear it,” said Chief Svanvik. “We brought a team of scientists to two full-day meetings where DFO promised to discuss science with us, but they didn’t bring any scientists and told us DFO didn’t consider it was worth ‘re-hashing’ the science with us.  It’s hard to believe; given this approach, that DFO takes seriously the Crown’s duty to respect and uphold our constitutionally protected rights.”

‘Namgis, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nations and Mamalilikulla First Nation completed a Government-to-Government process, in which resulted in those three First Nations signing agreements with Cermaq Canada and Mowi Canada. These agreements require the two fish farm companies to test their smolts for PRV before transferring them to the ocean. If the fish to be transferred test positive, they will not be placed into the water.

“It is baffling that DFO is setting a lower standard for the rest of BC, than is being applied in the Broughton and the fish farms have agreed to,” said Chief Svanvik.  “It’s pretty easy to see who cares about protecting wild salmon and who doesn’t.”


Chief Don Svanvik

(250) 974-7844