Opponents of coastal fish farms are asking a B.C. Supreme Court judge to rule that regulating the industry is the responsibility of the federal government, not the province.

Marine biologist and fish farm critic Alexandra Morton is leading a group of petitioners in the case that began Monday.

The group argues that the devastating impact open-net fish farms have on their surrounding ocean environment means that regulating them should fall to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Morton says she will argue the federal government was wrong to give up regulatory control of fish farming in the late 1980s when it delegated responsibility back to the province.

Morton's lawyer, Greg McDade, told the court the case isn't a referendum on fish farms.

But he says the damage such farms cause shows that the current division of powers is not working.

Morton raised more than $60,000 to pay for the court challenge through a $20 "Adopt a Fry" campaign run online.

Morton says fish farms produce vast amounts of waste and are breeding grounds for diseases like sea lice, which can harm nearby wild salmon.

The environmentalist has long maintained even though fish farms may be technically within provincial territory, the farms affect federally managed oceans - and should fall under federal jurisdiction.

But the province, which manages fish farming under the Ministry of Agriculture, has always challenged the science behind that assertion.

So far, the Ministry of Agriculture has declined to comment on the case.

With a report from The Canadian Press