Let’s talk about it – but let’s act on it too

In the week since the federal government announced that it was calling a judicial inquiry into the collapse of our Fraser sockeye stocks, there has been a lot of talk about what this really means and indeed, that it is a conversation well worth having.

I’ll admit that my first reaction to the announcement was that it was about time we saw some indication that the agency charged with ocean and fisheries protection was taking this seriously. Promoting fish farms in Norway while the collapse was announced, followed by a quick meeting in Vancouver with a select few does not a strategy make. There was too much silence going on. Then finally, this announcement – an inquiry that gives the judge in charge the power to get to the bottom of this. Great news!

But, I’ll admit – though happy with a response, I did not share the jubilation I heard from other quarters. I don’t want to throw cold water on something that hasn’t started yet, but a judicial inquiry does not mean the fight is over, and here are a few reasons why:

  • It will be 18 months before the final report from the inquiry is released So, what do we do in the mean time? What does this mean for next year’s salmon runs? Let there not be any illusions that we must stop calling for action just because this inquiry has been called. There may be many questions that need answering but scientists and others in the know have some ideas of things we can do now to reduce stress on these stocks – starting with getting open net salmon farms out of the water, in particular in a region we are learning has links to Fraser River stocks. One less stressor on these fish has got to be a good thing.
  • If you’ve followed any judicial inquiries in the past, you’ll know that one thing is clear: there is nothing that forces the government to implement any of the recommendations that come out of it. It’s great that the judge has power to call witnesses and get all the documents he needs, but we need to ensure that this report doesn’t just gather dust like so many before it. This will mean a lot of follow-up on the report once it is released, which means more time passes.

The bottom line is that though we have the terms of reference which allow the judge to look at both how the fish are managed as well as the threats to the fish themselves, it’s incredibly important that the recommendations keep a focus on what changes we need to make that will have clear and direct positive impacts on the fish. No issue can be left off the table, no matter how uncomfortable or complicated. It was good to see that aquaculture was explicitly mentioned but we can’t forget that these fish spent time in the Strait of Georgia, and this means that we must look at how contaminants are impacting their survival. Toxins in our oceans are of increasing concern, and to think they are not having an impact on salmon survival seems a blinkered view.

The judicial inquiry is the frame for our conversation in the next 18 months but it does not for a moment change the need for action to protect their habitat now. More delays is the last thing the salmon need.

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