The Need to Publicly Disclose Diseases on BC Fish Farms

Sam Harrison, law student at the Environmental Law Centre, University of Victoria, spoke at the recent Hakai Research Exachange. Here is the abstract of his presentation:

Diseases originating on fish farms have the potential to spread to wild salmon and cause catastrophic damage to coastal ecosystems. In partnership with the Wuikinuxv First Nation, the Environmental Law Clinic investigated the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) policy of withholding information about aquatic diseases on BC’s fish farms. We produced a law reform document that provided an overview of Canada’s aquatic animal regulatory framework, its unmet transparency goals, and a comparison with access to information regimes of other farmed salmon-producing nations. Three major aspects of fish-disease information publication affect its utility: timely release, specific location of outbreak, and accessibility of the information. Canada meets international protocols regarding speed of information dissemination but fails to attach specific locations or present the information in an intuitive manner, thereby failing on two of the three criteria. Most egregiously, the fact that disease records are published on a provincial scale rather than site-by-site makes them virtually useless to the public and investigating scientists. By contrast, the European Union leads the world with unambiguous legislation requiring all of its countries to create and maintain a database listing the disease status of each individual fish farm. With the aforementioned shortcomings, CFIA’s publication regime is so inadequate that the facts presented in this report could be marshalled for an argument that Canada is failing to meet its constitutional duty to consult with aboriginal communities. In light of the recent T’silhqot’in decision, this shortcoming could provide the traction needed to push CFIA to implement some true transparency.

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