The Canadian Justice Department has taken over a prosecution undertaken by biologist Alexandra Morton against a Norwegian fish farm located in British Columbia.
Biologist Alexandra Morton originally laid charges against Marine Harvest in 2009 for the illegal capture of wild pink salmon. Morton said the company did not release the fish to the wild as required by law, but instead caused the deaths of many of the fish. Morton outlined the incident on her blog. "... In June of 2009, young wild salmon were observed falling from a load of farm salmon being off-loaded from Marine Harvest’s vessel Orca Warrior. Some of these fish were collected and Marine Harvest admitted in the newspaper to catching the wild salmon. “By-catch” is fish caught without a licence in the process of fishing for other species. By-catch is strictly controlled in all other fisheries and in some cases causes entire fisheries to be shut down."
The Justice Department stepped in on April 16, relieving Morton of her private prosecution. The Justice Department has laid four counts of unlawful possession of wild herring and salmon against Marine Harvest. Todd Gerhart will be prosecuting on behalf of Canada.
The charges stem from two incidents. The first was the June incident which led Morton to lay charges against Marine Harvest. The second incident occurred in October 2009, which revealed herring mixed in with the farmed Atlantic salmon. The Justice Department also said Marine Harvest did not file required reports on the capture of "incidental wild fish." The company, said the Justice Department, also failed to release the fish in such a way as to cause the fish little or no harm.
Morton wrote "... My lawyer Jeffery Jones and I are relieved. “It is my strong opinion,” says Mr. Jones, a former Crown Prosecutor for DOJ, “that this industry was given access to the BC coast and appears to have been conducting itself as if it were above the law. Today’s decision by Mr. Gerhart and the Department of Justice confirms that no corporation is above the law. This is why private prosecutions are important democratic safeguards. Ms. Morton’s prosecution has triggered enforcement action by DOJ. I am extremely pleased by Mr. Gerhart’s decision.”"
Morton had urged Canada to take appropriate legal action against Marine Harvest last year, only filing charges on her own when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not respond. Saying"If government is not going to apply the laws of Canada to fish farms, it is up to the people to do so," Morton pressed charges against Marine Harvest in September 2009. Morton had attempted to bring the attention of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to the matter, even going as far as launching a petition that urged the government to take action. The petition gathered 18,000 names.
Morton said the incident reveals a regulatory double standard that has seen the Fisheries Act applied in some cases, but not in others. Morton wrote, "... For decades we have heard reports of wild fish trapped in fish farms, eaten by the farm fish and destroyed during harvest, but when DFO was informed of these offenses they would not, or could not, lay a charge. Canada cannot manage wild fish like this. You can’t regulate commercial and sport fishermen and then allow another group unlimited access to the same resource. BC will lose its wild fish."
Morton expressed relief and happiness that the Department of Justice has stepped in. June 22 has been set as the day Marine Harvest will appear in court for the hearing on the new charges.
Morton is embarking on an Get Out Migration starting April 22 to draw attention to the impact of large commercial fish farms on wild salmon in British Columbia.
Morton, who has been instrumental in bringing public attention to the plight of wild Pacific salmon for the past 20 years, will receive an honourary degree this spring from Simon Fraser University.