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No new fish farms for 10 months – BC Supreme Court

January 25, 2010

Alexandra Morton’s constitutional challenge to BC’s fish farm laws just keeps getting better.  Justice Hinkson today has effectively created a moratorium on new fish farms and fish farm expansion in BC for 10 months. 

Fishfarm2.jpgI like to think that Alexandra’s challenge to the province’s fish farm laws began at the beginning of 2008 when I convened a conference call between fish farm activists to discuss legal strategies, and in doing so introduced Alexandra to her lawyer, Greg McDade.  I’d love to say that that conference call directly resulted in a strategy to take on fish farms, but no… Alexandra and Greg came up with the constitutional challenge angle on their own.  But once we heard about the idea West Coast’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund contributed $17,640 to the cause. 

In February 2009 Justice Hinkson of the BC Supreme Court held that fish farms are not farms, but fisheries, and as such should be regulated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (not the provincial Ministry of Agriculture).   Justice Hinkson gave the federal government one year to take over the reins. 

But, as the Georgia Straight documented in an excellent article early this January, the federal government was slow off the mark in developing its own rules to regulate fish farms in BC.  And so the federal government applied to Justice Hinkson for an extension on that deadline for a further 10 months. 
Justice Hinkson’s decision today grants the extension – but subject to an important condition:

During the period between February 9, 2010 and December 18, 2010, I order that the respondents, the Minister of Agriculture and Lands and the Attorney General of British Columbia on behalf of the Province of British Columbia, issue no licences for new fish farms in British Columbia, and that they not extend the areas within which presently licensed fish farms or fish farms whose licenses are renewed between February 9, 2010 and December 18, 2010, are permitted to operate as of February 9, 2010.

This is not a result that the industry will be happy with, but it is a good result for those of us concerned about the impacts of open net fish farms on wild stocks. 

But wait … there’s more.  Justice Hinkson also confirmed his earlier ruling that the sections of BC’s Farm Practices Protection Act that protect fish farms from nuisance suits are unconstitutional.  Are nuisance suits against fish farms for noise, odour or water pollution the next big thing?

West Coast congratulates Alexandra and is proud to have played a role in advancing this important case. 

Andrewblogphoto.jpgBy Andrew Gage