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Legal victory for fish farm critics

The provincial government does not have the authority to regulate fish farms, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled this afternoon.

Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that the federal government has jurisdiction over oceans and should therefore be responsible for regulating fish farms. He also ruled that fish farms on provincial land (also called land-based or closed containment fish farms) should not be regulated by the province.

Hinkson suspended his decision for one year to give Ottawa a chance to bring in new legislation and shift licensing to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

One of the petitioners, biologist Alexandra Morton, has criticized provincial policies around open-net fish farming -- especially in the Broughton Archipelago, where high concentrations of salmon farms have been linked to sea lice infections in wild stocks.

Last week, the provincially-appointed Pacific Salmon Forum recommended a limit on salmon farm production in the Broughton Archipelago of 18,500 tonnes per year for at least the next five years.

Morton, who could not be reached for comment, told the Canadian Press that the ruling would give wild salmon a chance to thrive instead of going extinct.

Catherine Stewart, salmon farming campaign manager for the Living Oceans Society, was cautiously hopeful.

"It will be interesting to see the DFO held accountable for both the performance of the aquaculture industry and the protection of wild fish," she said. "At a policy level, both [federal and provincial] governments have been active proponents and supporters of open-net fish farming. We can hope this might make a's hard to say how this will all unfold with potential appeals."

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