Salmon Inquiry shows need for government overhaul

Conservation groups say focus must be salmon, not industry

October 18, 2011

VANCOUVER – The federal government must re-prioritize science and conserving salmon rather than surrendering to short-term industry interests, according to recommendations made by conservation groups to a national inquiry into the decline of Fraser sockeye.

The recommendations were submitted on October 17 by the Conservation Coalition, which was active throughout the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River. Represented at the inquiry by Ecojustice, this coalition includes the David Suzuki Foundation, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Georgia Strait Alliance, Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, Fraser Riverkeeper, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and Otto Langer. After more than a year of oral hearings, technical and policy reports, and close to 2,000 exhibits, the inquiry is now reaching the last phase of drafting a final report with recommendations to the federal government. 

"The inquiry revealed that the federal government must do much more to protect and restore Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks, by shifting effort and funding back to science and conservation rather than promoting and funding industries like aquaculture," said Jeffery Young of the David Suzuki Foundation. "To that end, we’ve asked the commission to recommend that government re-establish an independent fisheries research board and remove industry promotion from the mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada." 

The submission also argues that fully implementing the government’s own Wild Salmon Policy would ensure the long-term sustainability of Fraser River sockeye. Critical to this implementation is restoring a will and the funding for Fisheries and Oceans Canada to deliver on core functions like monitoring and enforcement.

"It’s clear from the tremendous amount of evidence gathered in this inquiry that the government has the mandate and tools to conserve and recover Fraser sockeye," said Tim Leadem, staff lawyer at Ecojustice. "Fully implementing existing policies, like the Wild Salmon Policy and ‘no net loss’ habitat policy, would put the government back on track."

The recommendations also focus on ways to address critical threats to Fraser sockeye, including immediately removing open net-cage salmon farms from Fraser sockeye migration routes, reducing fishing rates on endangered stocks and adopting a comprehensive research program, with adequate funding, into the cumulative impacts of temperature, habitat loss and chemical contaminants on salmon and their habitat.

"Even before the inquiry started, scientific evidence left no doubt that open net-cage salmon farms have negative effects on wild salmon populations," said Stan Proboszcz of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. "The inquiry revealed a substantial body of new evidence demonstrating the huge risk of catastrophic disease and parasite outbreaks that open net-cage salmon farms impart on Fraser sockeye and the need to immediately remove them from migration routes."

"The inquiry revealed that we are woefully ignorant of the cumulative impacts of chemicals dumped into the Fraser River and Georgia Strait," said Georgia Strait Alliance executive director Christianne Wilhelmson. "The federal government has turned its back on funding this important research, meaning it doesn’t have the information it needs to protect salmon habitat."

The Conservation Coalition recommendations highlight six themes and call on government to develop recovery plans for stocks at risk, and better habitat protection and pollution control. The full submission with recommendations is available here.

Justice Bruce Cohen’s final report is to be released in June 2012 and the Conservation Coalition strongly recommends that it must include clear, specific and prescriptive recommendations for the federal and B.C. governments to implement. 

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For more information, contact:

Sutton Eaves, Communications Director, Ecojustice, (604)685-5618 x 246

Christianne Wilhelmson, Executive Director, Georgia StraitAlliance, (604) 633-0530 or (604) 862-7579

Jeffery Young, Aquatic Biologist, David Suzuki Foundation,(604) 764-6142

Stan Proboszcz, Fisheries Biologist, Watershed Watch SalmonSociety, (604) 314-2713

Catherine Stewart, Living Oceans Society, (604) 633-0530 or(604) 916-6722

Michael Price, Conservation Biologist, RaincoastConservation Foundation, (250) 847-1519

Otto Langer, Fishery Biologist and Aquatic Ecologist, (604)274-7655