Salmon infected with sea lice. (Photo: Alexandra Morton)
BC farms' sea lice data goes public
Friday, March 05, 2010, 17:30 (GMT + 9)
British Columbia (BC) will have to make the information it collects on the scale of sea lice infestation on fish farms public, states a ruling from BC’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Environmental groups who have fought for four years for the release of sea lice and disease data the Agriculture and Lands Ministry gathers during visits to salmon farms are calling this a major step forward.
The information was first requested in 2004 by the T Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation and Ecojustice. The ministry then argued, however, that data gathered by government staff is protected by commercial information secrecy laws.
The new ruling recognizes that release of records could affect salmon farms’ reputations, but explains that the legislation is not meant to protect companies and that farms do not reveal the information confidentially, Times Colonist reports.
The government must release the information within 30 days unless the ministry or salmon farm industry seek a judicial review, reports Vancouver Sun.
Ecojustice lawyer Randy Christensen said the ruling allows greater public supervision of the problematic open-net salmon farming on BC's Pacific coast.
"The province has been compromising public interest by protecting these companies. The government should be defenders of the public's right to know, not the agents shielding companies from scrutiny of environmental performance," he asserted.
T Buck Suzuki Executive Director David Lane said that, even with improved access, fish farming transparency will continue to be a problem because site-by-site sea lice and disease monitoring data is collected by the BC Salmon Farmer's Association – not the government.
The public and government will thus be clueless regarding whether parasite or disease levels are dangerously high on a particular farm, he explained.
“It is a crack in the wall that all of us trying to protect wild salmon from industrial salmon farms have faced," said biologist Alexandra Morton, a strong opponent of fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago, who recently claimed that sea lice are becoming resistant to the drugs used to combat them.
Norwegian fish farming company Mainstream, which objected to the release of the data, said if environmental groups “are in possession of information that would suggest or confirm the presence of pathogens and/or sea lice in any quantity, and particularly in significant quantities, it is clear that they would use this information to damage Mainstream's business.”
The firm also argued that critics could take the information out of context. But the Information and Privacy Commissioner was not swayed, Globe and Mail reports.
“Possible misuse or distortion of material released under FIPPA [the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act] is not a basis for claiming an exception,” the ruling states.
Norwegian-owned Marine Harvest, the largest salmon farming firm in the province, has been publishing details of sea lice on their website since 2006, said Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.
- Missing salmon stocks to be probed: PM
- Alliance: remove farms that threaten wild salmon
By Natalia Real