Norwegian-based Marine Harvest is seeking a new injunction that would prevent the public from coming within 20 metres of its 34 fish farm facilities on B.C.’s coast.
“They are asking for a 20-metre exclusion zone, which would keep out divers and photographers,” said Greg McDade, legal council for biologist and wild salmon advocate Alexandra Morton.
The corporation delivered legal notices earlier this month to Morton and several other parties, including hereditary chief Ernest Alfred who has led the 264-day long protest of the Swanson fish farm in the Broughton Archipelago.
A hearing on the application has been set for Thursday.
The request alleges Morton and First Nation protestors “combined and conspired with each other with the intent to injure Marine Harvest by entering into an agreement to interfere and disrupt Marine Harvest’s business and to intimidate Marine Harvest and its employees to destroy the business of Marine Harvest.”
It also alleges that “ongoing harassment, intimidation and other unlawful acts” has stressed workers and some have had to go on stress leave.
The corporation wants the court to bar the protesters and public from an area “within the perimeter set by the buoys around any structures, docks, walkways, buildings floats or pens” at 34 sites.
It would also bar those named in the application and “anyone aware of this order” from disturbing fish, interfering with restocking or “watching, besetting or circling within 20 metres of any of the sites so as to intimidate Marine Harvest.” The corporation wants to be able to post the order on its fish farms as public notification of the ban.
The result would be an exclusion zone that would prevent Morton and others from documenting what’s going on at the fish farms, McDade said.
The ban would apply to the public, not just to those named in the injunction application, he noted.
“Public right of access in the open ocean dates back to the Magna Carta and is a significant issue.”
He compared Marine Harvest’s injunction request to an individual buying a licence to fish wild salmon and then arguing it gives them the right to keep people out of their fishing hole.
“I’ve never seen an injunction that tried to prevent people from watching or diving. It should be perfectly lawful to dive in the open ocean outside the nets.”
“They are over reaching and I hope the judge won’t allow them to get away with this,” McDade said. “Taking pictures and taking water samples, which is what Alex Morton has been doing, are perfectly legal activities.”
“I don’t have any issue with an injunction that stops a person from occupying their property, but what they are now asking the courts is much more.”
The injunction application submitted to the BC Supreme Court mentions the Sea Shepherd Society and its plan to send another vessel to the Broughton Archipelago this June as part of its “Operation Virus Campaign.”
Over the last two summers the Sea Shepherd’s R/V Martin Sheen has monitored fish farms to gather information on die-offs and disease outbreaks. The vessel has also supported First Nation protestors opposed to fish farms.
“Marine Harvest is concerned that the Sea Shepherd will return and resume facilitating further unlawful acts against Marine Harvest and increase the risk of confrontation,” the corporation says in its application for an injunction.
McDade said Marine Harvest appears to want to avoid scrutiny by the Sea Shepherd society.
“The Sea Shepherd has never interfered with their operations but that seems to be the main object of the Marine Harvest injunction — to keep them from watching and documenting what’s going on at Marine Harvest’s facilities,” he said.
Alfred, a hereditary chief and school teacher from Alert Bay, rejected Marine Harvest’s allegations.
“Their claims are false and have nothing to do with us,” he said. “We have been a respectful protest and have not committed any crime.”
“I believe that Marine Harvest, in a last ditch effort, is trying to stop the occupation,” Alfred said. “They are incredibly desperate and are on a sinking ship and they know it.”
One of the company’s applications accuses George Quocksister, hereditary chief of the Laichwiltach Nation and a long-time commercial fisherman, of “assault and battery.”
It alleges Quocksister grabbed an employee at a fish farm in the Okisollo Channel on April 22. “The contact was not trivial and was offensive to the employee’s physical autonomy,” the affidavit says.
Quocksister, 69, who shot videos showing wild fish trapped in fish farms, said the allegations are baseless, and that two cameras recorded his boarding of the farm.
He said he told an employee that his beef wasn’t with her but with her corporate boss for trespassing on his territory and for endangering the lives of wild salmon.
At least half a dozen Marine Harvest affidavits have accused defendants — primarily protestors from three First Nations that say they never gave the company permission to operate in their territories — of trespassing on their facilities, private nuisance, intimidation and conspiracy.
The injunction request comes at a critical time for the BC’s controversial fish farm industry which is largely located along the migratory routes of wild salmon.
Last week the Pacific Salmon Foundation called for “the removal of open net-pen farms along migratory routes of wild Pacific salmon” after a new study found that a contagious virus infecting 80 per cent of farmed Atlantic salmon may cause fatal disease in Chinook salmon.
In April, federal Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand issued a scathing report that charged that “Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not adequately manage the risks associated with salmon aquaculture consistent with its mandate to protect wild fish.”
First Nation protestors concerned about the ecological impact of fish farms and declining wild salmon populations occupied Marine Harvest’s Swanson facility last summer. They moved the protest to a nearby base camp onshore after a court injunction barred them from the farm.
Earlier this year the Namgis First Nation sought a court injunction to prevent Marine Harvest from restocking the remote Swanson facility with Atlantic salmon smolts.
Judge Michael Manson denied the injunction, but in his ruling recognized the concerns raised by First Nations about lack of consultation about fish transfers, the cultural importance of wild salmon and research identifying the risks viral diseases in farmed fish pose to wild fish.
Manson said there was “a real and non-speculative likelihood of irreparable harm” to First Nations and wild salmon, and that full judicial review of the issue was urgently needed.
Members of the Musgamagw, Namgis and Mamalililukulla nations occupied both Marine Harvest’s Swanson and Midsummer farms last summer in an effort to reassert aboriginal rights and title.
Unlike some First Nations on Vancouver Island, the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw people have never given permission for Atlantic salmon farms in their territory.
They want Marine Harvest to close its 22 intensive feeding facilities in the Broughton Archipelago.
Provincial licenses for all 22 facilities will expire June 20 and are now the subject of intense negotiation with First Nations.
This article was supported by those who generously contributed to the Rafe Mair Memorial Fund for Environmental Reporting on The Tyee. To find out more or contribute, click here.