Fishy business exposed in BC aquaculture

For Immediate Release February 5, 2004

Sierra Legal Defence Fund demands investigation of suspicious dealings regarding fines against aquaculture companies

VANCOUVER, BCSierra Legal Defence Fund, on behalf of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR), made a formal submission to the Auditor General of British Columbia yesterday demanding an investigation into the B.C. government’s decision to hand back fines levied against aquaculture companies for operating in violation of their aquaculture tenures.

Documents obtained by Sierra Legal under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Land and Water British Columbia Inc. (LWBC), the crown corporation responsible for managing provincial land and water tenures, levied hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against the companies for operating outside their approved tenure areas. But a confidential memo dated February 5, 2003 states that those fines were never collected, and some fines that had been paid were actually returned to the companies. The documents estimate that as much as $1.5 million was given away.

“Handing the fines back to the industry sends the wrong message,” said Sierra Legal Lawyer Tim Howard. “It encourages companies to knowingly violate their licences, and short-changes the taxpayer. An independent investigation is needed to shine a light on these fishy dealings.”

The documents show that 54 sites were out of compliance, and LWBC warned the companies in writing as far back as 2000 that they would have to pay fines. While acknowledging that the fines were consistent with LWBC policy and were routinely applied to other water tenure holders, LWBC handed the money back because “government/industry relations may suffer” if the fines were enforced. LWBC answers to the new Minister of Sustainable Resource Management, George Abbott.

“The salmon farming industry is always saying that they’re strictly regulated and follow the law,” said Laurie MacBride, Executive Director of the Georgia Strait Alliance. “These documents show that not only have they been way out of compliance, but when they don’t like the regulations, they just get them changed.”

T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation Executive Director David Lane added, “Instead of the salmon farming industry complying with government regulations and fines, the government is bending over backwards to comply with the wishes of the salmon farming industry.”

The Georgia Strait Alliance and the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation are both member groups of CAAR.

Sierra Legal has asked the Auditor General to launch an investigation into this issue. The Office of the Auditor General is responsible for auditing government, and providing independent assessments of government accountability and performance.