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Canada blocks NAFTA inquiry into BC fishery Printer friendly page Print This
By Alexandra Morton, Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity
Censored News
Monday, Dec 22, 2014

A petition by tribal, fishing and conservation groups calling for an investigation into Canada's failure to enforce laws regulating damage to wild salmon caused by aquaculture operations in British Columbia has been wrongly dismissed by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an environmental dispute body established under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mexico joined Canada in blocking preparation of a factual record on whether Canada is failing to enforce its federal Fisheries Act by allowing wild salmon to be exposed to disease and parasites from industrial fish farms in British Columbia. The United States supported a NAFTA inquiry, stating that the process was wrongly terminated.

"I am very disappointed that Mexico sided with Canada to block international inquiry into whether Canada has violated its Fisheries Act," said Alexandra Morton, an independent biologist who has helped expose Canada's failure to protect wild salmon from disease and parasites from industrial fish farms. "This politicized decision serves to shield the harmful effects of the Norwegian aquaculture industry from scrutiny. I think one day Canadians will be ashamed that they gave up wild salmon for this industry."

"I am deeply disappointed in Canada continuing to put wild salmon at risk," said Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation Chief Bob Chamberlin. "This process may have ended but our struggle to safeguard wild salmon will not falter for a moment."

"This NAFTA process is supposed to shine light on whether environmental laws are being enforced, but the process has become increasingly politicized and it's clear Canada does not want the facts revealed about the damage to wild salmon from industrial fish farms," said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Canada has permitted more than 100 industrial salmon feedlots in British Columbia to operate along wild salmon migration routes, exposing valuable salmon runs to epidemics of disease, parasites, toxic chemicals and concentrated waste. Salmon feedlots are linked to dramatic declines in wild salmon populations worldwide and the spread of lethal salmon viruses and parasites. Scientific evidence of threats to wild salmon swimming through British Columbia waters from fish feedlots has been mounting, as has public concern that feedlots could spread epidemic diseases. These poor aquaculture practices jeopardize the health of every wild salmon run along the Pacific Coast, since U.S. and Canadian fish stocks mingle in the ocean and estuaries.

Since the NAFTA petition was filed, the Canadian government's own "Cohen Commission of Inquiry"into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River issued a final report concluding that salmon farms have the potential for "serious or irreversible" harm to wild salmon through disease transfer. The commission recommended a freeze on new salmon farm licenses along part of the Fraser sockeye migration route until 2020. Yet in January 2014, without any response to the commission recommendations, Canada opened the British Columbia coast to more salmon farms. British Columbia tribal groups are now forming the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance to demand that the Canadian government fulfill its duty to safeguard wild salmon and the environment.


When a country that is signatory to the North American Free Trade Agreement fails to enforce its environmental laws, any person may petition the Commission for Environmental Cooperation for an investigation.

Canada's Fisheries Act prohibits harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat or addition of "deleterious substances." In 2012 tribal, fishing and conservation groups submitted a formal petition asking for investigation into Canada's failure to enforce the Fisheries Act. The petition documented pollutants, viruses and parasites from open-water industrial fish farms that are harming British Columbia's wild salmon runs. Earlier this year the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation recommended a formal investigation.

More than half a million Atlantic salmon were culled and quarantined in May 2012 in British Columbia fish farms due to a viral outbreak. Recent research shows that a Norwegian strain of piscine reovirus appears to have entered British Columbia around 2007. This virus, known to spread easily and to be associated with a disease that weakens the heart muscles of salmon, has been identified in nearly all farmed salmon raised and sold in British Columbia. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also revealed recently that there has been no follow-up testing on the deadly ISA fish virus, despite positive test results in samples of British Columbia farmed salmon.

Canada and Mexico claimed to dismiss the NAFTA matter because of pending judicial proceedings that supposedly address the same issues regarding operations and impacts of salmon farms in British Columbia (Kwicksutaineuk/Ah-Kwa-Mish First Nation v. British Columbia and Morton v. Minister of Fisheries). The petition before the Commission addressed Canada's failure to enforce Fisheries Act section 35, which prohibits the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, and section 36, which prohibits the addition of deleterious substances to fish habitat. The First Nation action filed in 2009 challenges Canada's failure to protect aboriginal fishing rights under section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act, a separate matter. The Morton application for judicial review does not involve any arguments about sections 35 or 36 of the Fisheries Act. Rather, it challenges the legality of aquaculture licenses that allow companies to transfer fish with diseases or viruses into the marine environment.

Therefore, neither proceeding addresses the concerns raised in the NAFTA petition.

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