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Fish farm opponent replaces scheduled BAG speaker

Alexandra Morton cancels following B.C. Supreme Court victory

The fish farm industry's staunchest opponent was set to return to the Brackendale Art Gallery Sunday (Jan. 31), but few supporters could begrudge Alexandra Morton her cancellation since it was due to a court ruling in favour of her cause.

Morton has been in a legal battle to eliminate what she calls unlawful fish farming practices, and this week BC Supreme Court forbade any expansion of aquaculture until December 18, 2010 and granted the federal government a suspension order so that Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) can further prepare to assume control of regulating salmon farms during that time. The province cannot issue any new fish farm licences and cannot expand the size of any tenure.

Last February B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that under the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal government is responsible for management and protection of fisheries. He ordered an end to provincial regulation over ocean-finfish aquaculture by February 9, 2010.

"While I am truly sorry that jobs will be lost in ocean fish farming, bear in mind the industry is in deep trouble with mother nature herself in the fish farming strongholds of Chile and Norway," writes Morton in an email to supporters.

"Trying to hold this nomadic fish in pens is never going to work, because it causes epidemics, unnatural sea lice infestations and drug resistance. Salmon farming is not sustainable and ultimately we are better served by our wild fish."

Instead of Morton's appearance at the BAG, an ally in environmental stewardship, Andy Wright, will present and examination of the technologies and economics of fish farming.

Wright spends the majority of his working life utilizing his engineering and photography skills to promote conservation goals and promote increased stewardship of British Columbian ecosystems.

Fish farming in Canada may be taking a different path, thanks to efforts of environmentalist like Morton. She won a landmark case last year when she and others successfully petitioned that provincial regulation of the ocean-finfish aquaculture industry was unconstitutional.

"It's not that they're illegal, they're unlawful," said Morton. "They're really operating outside of our law."

Morton said she realized the current Fisheries Act - meant to regulate aquaculture - had giant legal loopholes only after she decided to personally charge a fish farm with unlawful possession of juvenile pink salmon. She said the act has been so re-arranged over the years, that it can not adequately address occurrences.

"Provincially licensed aquaculture is exempt from fishing regulations."

Since there are no current laws regulating the fish farming industry, Morton suggested either developing new laws or changing the fish farming industry altogether.

"I can't prove that the fish farms are destroying anything but I'm saying, 'OK, let's have a look at you guys. What is your by-catch? What are your diseases? Let's just make it transparent because they are in public waters," she said.

"The law has not been written to govern this industry and there's this really fundamental problem in that salmon farming in net pens in unconstitutional in our oceans. So they either have to change the constitution or they have to change the industry."

In an effort to change the situation, Morton has launched a petition through, urging the Fisheries and Oceans Canada to apply the Fisheries Act to the farming industry. The petition now has 20,000 signatures.

Wright's lecture is a part of a month-long nature series at the Brackendale Art Gallery. Each lecture starts at 8 p.m. and admission is by donation.