An environmental group is threatening to sue the federal government for approving the expansion of a B.C.-based fish farm without properly assessing the environmental impact.
Ecojustice, a non-profit organization of environmental lawyers, says that the 37-per-cent expansion to the Doyle Island facility, which will make it one of the largest Atlantic salmon farms in the province, is illegal.
"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans approved the expansion without an assessment, neglecting their mandatory duties under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act," said Judah Harrison, a staff lawyer with Ecojustice, which represents the marine-conservation group Living Oceans Society.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Harrison said the DFO has until today to reverse its decision or Ecojustice will sue. The DFO did not provide a spokesperson to respond to the allegations.
In an e-mail obtained by The Globe and Mail that was sent to Mr. Harrison, the DFO said that it will not perform another assessment.
An original assessment, conducted by the Ministry of Transportation, was based on 2,550 tonnes of annual fish production. The expansion will increase production by 1,500 tonnes a year.
B.C.'s Ministry of Agriculture and Lands said it had granted the expansion application to Marine Harvest Canada before a moratorium on new fish-farm licences and expansions was set in January.
The 2009 government report cited in Ecojustice's court application, however, states that any future changes to the Doyle facility "such as site expansions or production level increases, will be reviewed ... [and]the potential effects of those changes to fish and fish habitat must be assessed."
Any further assessment will have to occur during the expansion of the facility, Clare Blackman, director of environmental affairs for MHC, told The Globe and Mail yesterday. He added that he has not been informed of any further assessments by the DFO.
The Living Oceans Society has been denied access to research documents from the original assessment. "There has been a great deal of new science conducted on the impact of fish farms," said spokesman Will Soltau.