ANALYSIS - The final report of the Cohen Commission Inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser river has been released. The report states that aquaculture should continue in British Columbia despite sockeye salmon still facing an uncertain future, writes Lucy Towers, TheFishSite Editor.
The Inquiry has been led by British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen over the last four years since it began in 2009.
With help from scientists, academics, fishermen, members of the aquaculture industry, First Nations and Aboriginal communities, environmentalists, government officials and members of the public, the Cohen Commission has now released the report in three volumes which examine the factors that affect the health of salmon in British Columbia.
The first volume acts as a background document by providing information on the health and management of wild and farmed salmon. It also provides an overview of government legislation and the Commission's mandate.
Volume two studies the causes of the decline. Mr Cohen said there was no single cause for the poor 2009 return of salmon, but the report suggests a mixture of environmental and marine conditions and fisheries management changes helped lead to the decline.
“Some, I suspect, hoped that our work would find the “smoking gun” – a single cause that explained the two-decade decline in productivity – but finding that a single event or stressor is responsible is improbable,” said Mr Cohen.
In the final volume, the commission provided a set of recommendations in regard to aquaculture. The recommendations stated that aquaculture in British Columbia should continue and that new farms be allowed if sited appropriately but mitigation measures for disease transmission are needed.
A need for more research on farmed/wild salmon interactions in the Discovery Islands area was also noted.
“Further research is crucial to understanding the long-term productivity and sustainability of Fraser River sockeye salmon,” said Mr Cohen. “Notably, a better understanding is needed of the migratory and feeding patterns in all marine areas. I heard enough evidence about warming waters to conclude that climate change is a significant stressor for sockeye and in combination with other stressors, may determine the fate of the fishery.”
In response to the recommendations, Clare Backman, Board Member of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, said: “These recommendations are all about protecting wild salmon, which is central to the work that we do each day on our farms. We’re confident that our farms are not a risk to wild salmon and support more research to confirm that.”
The report was welcomed by the government. The Acting Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Gail Shea, said: “I was pleased to table Justice Cohen’s report in the House of Commons. On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to thank Justice Cohen and his team for their hard work and dedication in putting together this extensive report.”
“Our Government recognises the cultural and economic importance of salmon to British Columbia and we remain committed to the viability of the salmon fishery in British Columbia,” said Member of Parliament for Pitt Meadows–Maple Ridge–Mission Randy Kamp and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Parliamentary Secretary for the Asia-Pacific Gateway.
“We will continue to work with stakeholders and partners, and review the Justice Cohen’s findings and recommendations very carefully. I want to assure Canadians that we, like all British Columbians, want to see a sustainable and prosperous salmon fishery for years to come.”
Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick also commented: “I’d like to thank commissioner Bruce Cohen and his staff for conducting this extensive inquiry and also thank the participants who shared their knowledge, commitment and passion to help the commission look for answers to the decline."