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In Canada, we import approximately 93% of the fish consumed while we continue to export a significant amount of fish caught.

Also, there is a lack of information relating to the fish being exported from Canada. In 2018 five tonnes of AquaAdvantage (genetically modified) salmon were sold, but it is not clear who purchased the salmon. More recently due to over-fishing and mismanagement of quotas and large-scale fishing, fish stocks around Canada are continuing to decline.

There have been numerous cases brought before the Canadian courts over the course of the past several years relating to the protection of wild salmon. There appears to be a trend towards the implementation of stricter protocols as it relates to the protection of wild salmon.  

In 2015, the Ecology Action Centre initiated a claim against the Minister of the Environment and Aquabounty Canada Inc., a biotechnology company that owns the rights to genetically engineered Atlantic salmon (AquAdvantage Salmon). The issues raised in the claim were whether the Minister’s decision to grant a waiver to Aquabounty Canada Inc. to the Domestic Substances List was reasonable and made in conformity with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The AquAdvantage Salmon eggs were to be sent from Canada to Panama for the purposes of growing the fish. The Federal Court in Ecology Action Centre v Canada (Minister of Environment), concluded that the Minister’s waiver for AquAdvantage Salmon on the basis that the substance was non-toxic, and the Minister’s notification, were both reasonable. On March 15, 2016 Siskinds blogged on this decision and issues associated with Genetically Modified labelling.

Another case where the courts considered whether there were proper control measures to protect the potential toxicity of salmon populations occurred as a result of a series of BC Ministerial policy decisions. In these decisions, the Minister permitted a bypass for the testing of baby farmed salmon for Piscine Orthoreovirus or Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation. The most recent 2018 Ministerial decision was overturned by the Federal Court. In this decision the Federal Court quashed the policy due to its lack of required testing. Piscine Orthoreovirus is contagious and has been found in many fish farms in British Columbia. The disease is a concern as there are wild salmon migration routes located alongside these fish farms. In its decision, Morton v. Canada (Fisheries and Oceans), the Federal Court found it unlawful for farmed salmon to be placed in open nets without testing. The Court gave the government four months to review and revise the policy.

More recently in 2019, a group of advocates and fisheries brought an action in Newfoundland and Labrador regarding the expansion of the aquaculture industry. Ecojustice filed the lawsuit on the group’s behalf, stating:

The environment assessment for the Indian Head Hatchery expansion was scoped to exclude the project’s marine portion — that is, the open net pens to which an additional 2.2 million salmon smolt will be transferred. The expansion, approved in September 2018, would result in a 50 per cent increase to the hatchery’s production capacity. Wild salmon in some areas of Newfoundland and Labrador declined 45 per cent between 2015-2018 due to a number of factors. A huge increase in open net pen salmon farming threatens the species further.

The case is still pending before the courts. Considering the courts’ reluctance to interfere with Ministerial decisions regarding approval of grow outs and farming fisheries, it is uncertain if the courts will take this opportunity to intervene in the regulation of salmon farming in Newfoundland and Labrador. The court’s previous willingness to interfere with British Columbia policy in Morton indicates that the court might similarly be willing to interfere with the Newfoundland and Labrador governmental oversight and environmental assessment policies of salmon farming.

Written with the assistance of our articling student Terra Duchene.

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