Newsrooms vs Courtrooms in the battle over salmon farms

In many of our newsrooms, anti-salmon farming activists have found allies to propagate their narratives. In the courtrooms, where factual evidence matters, a different story emerges.

By Fabian Dawson

As the government is set to decide on whether to renew  79 salmon farming licences in British Columbia, here is a quick look at what the courts have said about the activism against open-net aquaculture and the activists themselves.

In many of our newsrooms, where the activists have found allies to propagate their falsehoods and questionable science, there is rarely a challenge to their claims or holding them accountable.

In the courtrooms, a different story emerges.

After listening to the competing science and claims, judges have found that the only evidence before them is open-net salmon farming in B.C. and neighbouring waters pose no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon. The claims by the activists are baseless and disguised as factual evidence when it is merely the opinions of the unqualified, the judges have ruled.

Here are some of the cases.

  1. Federal Court of Canada 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.

“If (they) are not permitted to proceed with the transfer of fish they require to undertake as part of their operations; in these most trying of times, given how Canadians are looking to navigate the realities of the global pandemic, these factors outweigh the public interest factors

“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.”

2. Federal Court of Canada 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).

3. 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 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,”

4. The Washington State Supreme Court in a landmark 9-0 ruling found the claims about disease and sea lice impacting wild stocks, that have been falsely and widely propagated by anti-fish farm activists in the Pacific Northwest, to be without merit.

“Transmission from farmed Atlantic salmon to wild salmonid populations presents a low risk and the transmission from farmed steelhead presents the same or even lower risk

 “There is limited evidence that these transmissions result in disease in the wild population.

 “(The allegations) “are unsupported in the record.”

5. BC Supreme Court Madam Justice Adair on British anti-fish farm activist Don Staniford who was ordered deported from Canada after working as a paid employee for the group, Friends of Clayoquot Sound.

“I have concluded that Mr. Staniford is akin to a zealot. Virtually anything that conflicts with his view and vision is wrong, bad, disgraceful, and worse…He is highly suspicious. Neutral facts will lead him to jump to irrational conclusions, she wrote.

 “He cruelly and publicly mocks people who have different points of view …. He is aiming to ridicule and humiliate people who do not agree with his views.”