Native groups opposed to west coast ocean fish farms are going to court to try to preserve what they say are their ancestral fishing grounds. “We’ve been at this for well over a decade,” Chief Bill Cranmer of the Namgis First Nation says. “And we keep being ignored. Now we have no alternative but to turn to the courts to protect the wild salmon and our way of life.”

The target of the lawsuit launched by the Namgis and three other bands is a large group of fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago off the central B.C. coast where the most recent pink-salmon run plummeted to fewer than 150,000 fish last year from 3.6 million in 2000.

Fish-farm opponents attribute the disastrous decline to an infestation of sea lice from fish farms that the juvenile pinks swam through on their way to the ocean.

The natives’ court action, launched in B.C. Supreme Court last week on their behalf by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, demands immediate protection for the area’s wild fish population and an injunction to prevent further stocking of open-net cage salmon farms in the archipelago.

The lawsuit charges that Ottawa and the provincial government have failed in their duty to protect aboriginal fishing rights by promoting the aquaculture industry in British Columbia. A major problem, Mr. Cranmer said, is that both levels of government withhold information on the environmental impact of fish farms.