Sockeye salmon in the Adams River heading upstream to spawn. A drop in returning sockeye to less than two million in 2009 prompted the federal government to appoint the Cohen inquiry.

Feds accused of ignoring Cohen’s steps to save sockeye

Salmon inquiry recommendations languish one year later

Conservation groups are criticizing the federal government for inaction one year after the tabling of the Cohen Commission’s exhaustive report on how to halt the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon.

They say Justice Bruce Cohen’s 75 recommendations have languished following the $26-million inquiry, with no sign of meaningful action from the federal government that dispatched him.

“There are a lot of people disappointed,” Watershed Watch Salmon Society executive director Craig Orr said.

“What was hailed by many as a blueprint to sustain sockeye into the future is starting to look a lot more like a government retreat.”

Cohen focused in large part on the potential risk to wild salmon from net pen fish farms and urged transparent sharing of disease data by the farms.

“We haven’t seen that yet,” Orr said, adding Ottawa should also take up Cohen’s call to change how it regulates aquaculture.

“We want to see them fix the conflicted mandate of government – on the one hand promoting salmon farming while on the other supposedly protecting wild fish.”

Orr said the provincial government is moving to update B.C.’s Water Act, potentially adding some additional protections, but added it’s “a stretch” to think that will make up for the recent erosion of federal legislation protecting fish habitat.

The Fisheries Act was amended last year so its ban on damaging habitat now only outlaws “serious harm” to stocks that are actually fished by commercial, sport or aboriginal users.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea said in a statement the government is continuing a Cohen-recommended moratorium on new salmon farms in the Discovery Islands zone near Campbell River and that it “will not be lifted for the foreseeable future.”

Shea said Cohen’s findings are helping guide day-to-day work protecting salmon.

“We are responding to his recommendations not by producing another written document, but by taking concrete actions that make a real difference.”

In a separate interview, Shea told Black Press the Cohen recommendations led to a doubling of fishing enforcement on the Pacific salmon fishery in August and September.

Using aerial surveillance and on-water enforcement, fisheries officers seized 10 vessels and 66 nets this year, an increase from the previous year.

Ottawa spends $65 million a year on Pacific salmon initiatives, $20 million of that directly tied to Fraser sockeye.

John Fraser, a former fisheries minister and speaker of the House of Commons who once led an earlier four-year probe of B.C. salmon stocks, said Ottawa deserves credit for steering extra money to Pacific salmon projects, but scolded the lack of response to Cohen.

“Quite frankly, there isn’t any excuse for it,” Fraser said. “And I say that as a lifetime Conservative.”

He was among critics who warn the salmon outlook is further clouded by the Fisheries Act changes and deep cuts to biologists and other Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff.

DFO staff are acting without new regulations spelling out how changes to the act will be applied, he said, and increasingly with inadequate research.

“If you don’t have the science, you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “You’re diminishing your capacity to know what you need to know to do your duty.”

Cohen’s three-volume report did not point to any single culprit for the two-decade slide in sockeye numbers.

But he targeted 11 recommendations at the aquaculture industry and said warmer ocean water due to climate change is likely a big factor, in combination with others.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

Aquaculture workers process salmon grown at a coastal fish farm. Photo – B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.

Just Posted

With sport, it’s best to start them young

When facing off on the court as teenagers, some players recall starting their career in elementary

Agassiz churches to come together for night of worship

The joint worship night is an attempt to revive an old event in the community

New Chilliwack YMCA was ‘worth the wait’ say visitors

Family Day will mark officially opening for new building, after sneak peek tours on Saturday

More people in Chiliwack coming in to shelters to get out of the cold

Ruth and Naomi’s went over-capacity this week to accommodate shelter guests coming in from the cold

Chilliwack Chiefs visit Kent Elementary

Grade 6 students got a chance to visit with, and play hockey against, some local hockey celebrities

VIDEO: Wheelchairs teach Agassiz students acceptance through sport

Teacher Donna Gallamore brought wheelchairs to the Kent Elementary for learning and fun

Vancouver crash leaves driver dead, 2 in hospital

Police are investigating what happened in 2-vehicle crash

James says B.C. budget puts priorities on NDP’s poverty, environment plans

She said she expected the government’s poverty reduction and climate change strategies to be priorities in the budget

Vancouver Giants blank Rockets

Langley-based G-men take over top spot in the west

PHOTOS: Day 1 of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer

Games kicked off in Red Deer this week

Ammonia leak shuts down curling club in Nelson

It’s not yet clear when the leak was detected

Pavelski’s 31st goal helps Sharks top Canucks 3-2

Vancouver one point out of second NHL wild-card spot

Stabbing at Lower Mainland banquet hall sends man to hospital

RCMP says victim has ‘non-life threatening’ injuries, incident still under investigation

Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Coastal Health official say the cases stem from the French-language Ecole Jules Verne Secondary

Most Read