CANADA - It has been a year since Justice Bruce Cohen released the Final Report of the $26 million inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. Since then, the government has failed to take any meaningful action on the report or towards rebuilding salmon numbers.
Despite the impressive strength of Cohen's findings and the solid 75 recommendations tabled to protect Fraser River sockeye, government has taken no meaningful action on the Report or towards rebuilding salmon numbers.
Representatives from science and First Nations expressed that government has instead weakened protection of salmon and habitat, said Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
Although federal government officials say they're taking positive steps "consistent with the recommendations," many deadlines laid out in the Final Report have lapsed with no action or response from government. A few examples suggesting that government is acting counter to the recommendations include:
- Degrading habitat protections in the Fisheries Act
- Cutting significant numbers of biologists and other Fisheries and Oceans Canada staff
- Still refraining from public reporting of disease and virus data from open-net salmon farms
"A year has passed and the public and wild salmon deserve a response," said D. Orr, Executive Director of Watershed Watch. "Recommendations have been ignored around the Wild Salmon Policy-a progressive government initiative that promises to safeguard wild salmon. The public is left wondering just where wild salmon are in government priorities."
Stan Proboszcz-a fisheries biologist and participant with standing in the Inquiry-has tracked the lack of action on the Inquiry over the last year. "Government has ignored specific inquiry recommendations and missed about 14 deadlines," said Mr Proboszcz. "Although officials say they're acting "consistently" with the recommendations, it's unclear what they're doing and how it's connected to the judicial synthesis of countless experts from the Inquiry."
Justice Cohen's Final Report highlights viruses and diseases in open-net salmon farms as a risk to wild salmon. One of his recommendations states Fisheries and Oceans Canada should give non-government scientists timely access to disease outbreak data from salmon farms. "New evidence on viruses has come to light since the Inquiry ended and we need to tackle this issue seriously to protect wild fish," said Dr Orr. "We need to have timely access to primary virus and disease data from open-net salmon farms."
The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association said that it remains committed to Commissioner Bruce Cohen’s recommendations and goals.
“Our farmers have been supportive of these recommendations from the day they were released – and not just in words but in action,” said Mary Ellen Walling, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. “We’re taking on this work to give British Columbians greater confidence that we’re raising healthy fish with great care.”
One of the examples of proactive work BCSFA members have undertaken is to host a series of workshops to help define possible risks to wild salmon and identify knowledge gaps and research priorities. The second of these will be held in November.
Farmers are also collating all of their water data for use by researchers investigating the impacts of rising ocean temperatures – the issue Commissioner Cohen deemed “the elephant in the room” during the release of his report. The BCSFA has also signed onto a significant long-range study looking specifically at fish health in both wild and farm-raised fish.
“The diligence of our farmers means we have significant amounts of information that could be useful to researchers who are looking at aquaculture directly and who are looking at the broader ocean environment,” said Ms Walling.
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