British Columbia First Nations disappointed with government’s suppression of fish virus study

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Three Broughton Area First Nations have condemned the Canadian government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for deciding “to suppress the information they had about fish viruses associated with British Columbia finfish aquaculture.”

The statement was released in response to an article published in the Globe and Mail on 14 April. Journalist Ian Bailey reported that the governments of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper and current leader Justin Trudeau “would not release the 2012 report into open-net fish farms.”

In March, Canada’s federal information commissioner ordered the DFO to release the study, which found pathogens among open-net fish farms in the province. The information commissioner claimed that the decision to suppress the publication of the document was not justified.

“We have worked very hard to understand the ways that the fish farms in our territories can affect the wild Pacific salmon populations and the health of the ecosystem, including big investments in science and monitoring programs,” ‘Namgis First Nation Chief Don Svanvik stated.

“For 10 years, DFO has had reliable information about the harm that these viruses may cause wild salmon, which we could have used to protect these dwindling stocks. The government of Canada says it wants to act like our partner but holding back this important information is not something a partner would do,” Svanvik added.

“The newly released information about the adverse effects of the highly contagious PRV to fish health corroborates observations and other information gathered… This information would have been extremely helpful in 2012, and potentially helped prevent the losses of wild salmon that we are dealing with today,” Svanvik concluded.

The Mamalilikulla First Nation, ‘Namgis First Nation and Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation have joined together to form the Broughton Aquaculture Transition Initiative (BATI, with the expressed aim of recovering the Pacific salmon populations. The three nations will decided whether seven tenures for salmon farms will be allowed to remain in their territories when they are set to expire this year.

Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray responded to the criticism through their press secretary, Claire Teichman, stating that “As has been previously reported, according to widely accepted standards for publishing scientific research papers, authors must agree to the contents of the paper. This is also reflected in DFO’s policy on science integrity.”

In the Canadian government’s reply, Teichman confirmed that Murray remains committed to the Canadian government’s controversial plan to transition away from open-net pen salmon farming in British Columbia’s coastal waters.