A series of lawsuits filed by salmon farmers and aquaculture support companies in British Columbia allege two former federal fisheries ministers engaged in “unlawful conduct.”

Former fisheries ministers accused of “unlawful conduct” in lawsuits

A series of lawsuits filed by salmon farmers and aquaculture support companies in British Columbia allege two former federal fisheries ministers engaged in “unlawful conduct.”

By Fabian Dawson

Canada’s two previous Fisheries Ministers engaged in “deliberate and unlawful conduct” to shut down salmon farms in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands, allege a series of lawsuits filed by fish farmers and aquaculture support companies.

SeaWestNews reported last April on the first of the lawsuits against former Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray and her predecessor Bernadette Jordan, that were filed by four BC-based aquaculture support companies.

Murray, Jordan, and Canada’s Attorney General were named as defendants in the lawsuit brought by Aquatrans Distributors Inc., Browns Bay Packing Company Ltd., Sure Cold Refrigerated Storage Inc, and the Indigenous-owned J.W. Walkus Fishing Company.

Salmon farmers Mowi Canada West and Cermaq Canada have now filed similar lawsuits in the BC Supreme Court alleging that the ministers “wilfully engaged” in making the “unlawful decisions” while being aware at all times that the actions would harm their companies, their employees and their contractors.

“Both previous Fisheries Ministers have engaged in deliberate and unlawful conduct that they knew was likely to injure our company and have treated this file with reckless indifference,” said Ian Roberts, Mowi’s director of communications.

“This is a claim for misfeasance in public office, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and expropriation stemming from the unlawful conduct and wilful breaches of natural justice,” said Roberts.

Separately, Mowi and Cermaq together with Grieg Seafood BC Ltd and Wei Wai Kum First Nation and We Wai Kai First Nation also filed for a judicial review of the Discovery Island decision.

The original decision to shutter 19 open-net salmon farms in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands was made in 2020 by former Fisheries minister Jordan, following threats by the anti-salmon lobby to withhold it’s support for the Trudeau Liberals.

In April 2022, the Federal Court ordered the government to set aside the decision due to procedural breaches by Jordan and reaffirmed an earlier ruling that all the evidence provided showed “salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon.”

Murray, who took over Jordan’s portfolio after the last election, then ordered up consultations with the stakeholders to meet the procedural requirements before making the same decision as her predecessor earlier this year.

Both ministers ignored their own scientists, who found in 10 peer-reviewed government studies conducted by Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) that the farms had minimal impact on the wild fish migrating through the area.

They also dismissed findings by Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) senior officials who clearly stated to the former Ministers that they “do not have a science basis to apply a higher level of precaution in the Discovery Islands area compared to elsewhere in BC.”

DFO in its response to the lawsuits stated, “Minister Jordan and Minister Murray acted, at all material times, lawfully, and within the scope of the statutory powers of their office, and in furtherance of their duties to manage, conserve, and develop fisheries on behalf of Canadians in the public interest.”

First Nation leaders who support salmon farming and members of the BC Salmon Farmers Association recently met with new Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier to discuss the Federal Government’s plan to transition open-net aquaculture operations on Canada’s West Coast.

Last week, Canadian aquaculture technology companies asked Minister Lebouthillier to continue to support the remaining ocean-based salmon farms in British Columbia with a framework that provides long term stability through science-based environmental performance targets.

Key Federal Court rulings regarding salmon farming in BC’s Discovery Islands.

  • Federal Court Judge Panagiotis Pamel when granting an injunction that allowed fish farmers in BC’s Discovery Islands to continue stocking their ocean pens with baby salmon, while they challenged Ottawa’s decision to remove them from the area.

“The only evidence before me is that today, salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon.

“The Minister (also) argues that we can infer that the First Nation communities that were consulted did not want to see any further transfer of new fish within the existing pens.

“However, another reading of the evidence would suggest that the concern regarding the continued issuance of transfer licences during the phase-out period was not first raised by the First Nation communities, but rather emanated from a suggestion from the Minister. I suspect further clarification is required.”

  •  Federal Court Judge Mandy Aylen when rejecting attempts by anti-fish farm activist, Alexandra Morton, to influence its pending decision on the future of salmon aquaculture in BC’s Discovery Islands.

“Morton’s proposed affidavit contains untested hearsay evidence, contains improper opinion evidence under the guise of being factual evidence.

 “(It) constitutes an attack on the science presented by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and goes far beyond providing general background information” (to assist the court).

  • Federal Court Judge Elizabeth Heneghan when ordering the government to set aside its decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.

“In my opinion, failure of the Minister (Jordan) to provide reasons in her Decision of December 16, 2020, amounts to a breach of procedural fairness. The consequences of the Decision in this case are significant and the Minister owed a duty to provide reasons.

“The Decision, in the absence of reasons, cannot be justified. In the absence of reasons, it is not transparent. In the absence of reasons, it is not intelligible,”

Image shows former Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray and her predecessor Bernadette Jordan