Wild Salmon

2017 Cohen Inquiry update: recommendations are still being "acted on," not completed

Stan Proboszcz, Greg Taylor and Aaron Hill, Watershed Watch Salmon Society

School of spawning sockeye salmon near the bridge on the Adams River, British Columbia, Canada | Photo: TheInterior via Wikimedia Commons

The Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River was headed by Justice Bruce Cohen and in 2012 culminated in an 1100 page final report and 75 recommendations, covering habitat protection, salmon farming, hatchery management, fisheries management, and more. The current government committed to implementing the Cohen recommendations.

While this progress report, like the one in 2016, is an important demonstration of transparency, many details in the report are disingenuous and disappointing.

This year’s update attempts to replace the true intentions of fully implementing Justice Cohen’s recommendations with simply “acting” on the recommendations (meaningfully or not).

The 2017 update reports on 64 out of 75 recommendations that have been “acted upon.” While this is a good start, the recommendations were intended to be fully completed, not just “acted upon.” Many of the recommendations have deadlines attached to them, which have long since lapsed. Implementing Cohen’s recommendations has never been more important. This year’s sockeye return to the Fraser River was one of the lowest on record.

There are numerous examples of Cohen recommendations that have not been completed, the following are just a few.

Recommendation 6 – Wild Salmon Policy

“The Government of Canada should establish dedicated Wild Salmon Policy funding sufficient to carry out [DFO]’s implementation plan and to cover ongoing operational costs.”

No dedicated funding has been allocated to Wild Salmon Policy implementation. While federal funding for salmon science and habitat restoration has increased, 2016 and 2017 saw the lowest levels of salmon monitoring since the second world war. A recent study by Simon Fraser University researchers found that that status of half of all wild salmon populations on BC’s north and central coasts cannot be assessed due to lack of monitoring.

Recommendation 18 – Salmon Farming

“If at any time between now and September 30, 2020, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans determines that net-pen salmon farms in the Discovery Islands […] pose more than a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon, he or she should promptly order that those salmon farms cease operations.”

Salmon farms in the Discovery Islands have not been removed despite new scientific evidence identifying new disease risks from salmon farms. A study published in the journal Marine Policy in December 2016 concluded that salmon farms in the region of concern present greater than minimal risk of serious harm, while another study published in February 2017 identified a disease (HSMI) not previously found in the area. A precautionary management approach would be to remove the farms along the Discovery Islands; however, DFO continues to delay any meaningful action to protect wild fish.

Recommendation 3 – Salmon Farming

“The government of Canada should remove from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans mandate the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product.”

DFO continues to promote the salmon farming industry and the product through its communications and social media and through its inaction on protecting wild fish from industry risks. The Minister of Fisheries has been quoted as not agreeing with Justice Cohen’s assessment, that DFO has a conflict of interest.

DFO’s second annual update announcement on its progress on Cohen Inquiry implementation was even more disappointing than the first in 2016. This year’s update lacks meaningful substance and details of its supposed action on implementation. It also attempts to replace the true intentions of fully implementing Justice Cohen’s recommendations with simply “acting” on the recommendations (meaningfully or not). Canadians deserve a truly independent assessment of the recommendations.

Watershed Watch Salmon Society is a science-based charity advocating for BC’s wild salmon and the waters they swim in.

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