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

Agassiz study to look at drone use for pesticide application

The study will be the first in Canada to use drones to apply pesticides to farm fields

Lofty plans for Chilliwack school district revealed

Chilliwack school district draws up plan to add 2,900 student seats in five years

A+ work: Princeton RCMP find student’s homework stolen from Chilliwack

The backpack was stolen from a vehicle in Chilliwack earlier this week

Delays en route for Highway 7 in Harrison Mills

Road resurfacing will cause month-long delays for drivers travelling through Harrison Mills

The luckiest man in Agassiz finds more than 200 four-leaf clovers

Walt Hardinge has found more than 219 four-or-more leaf clovers this spring alone

VIDEO: Quadriplegic man takes flight over Harrison Mills

Jim Ryan hasn’t moved his arms or legs for three years, but that didn’t stop him from paragliding

Burnaby facility to dispose of 1,500 tonnes of Canada’s trash from Philippines

All 103 containers will be disposed of properly within Canada before the end of the summer

Scheer says it would take Conservatives five years to balance budget

Scheeraccused the Liberal government of spending $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted funds

Man wants guilty plea revoked in 2012 collision in Abbotsford that killed Chilliwack woman

Michael Larocque was charged in relation to crash that killed Eileen Kleinfelder

High-risk sex offender released into Surrey

Earon Wayne Giles, a Newton “tag-team rapist,” was released from prison Friday and is now living in Surrey

Vancouver woman sexually assaulted after man follows her home; suspect at large

Police are looking for an Asian man in his 40s after the incident on Vancouver’s east side.

B.C. man, 30, arrested for driving his parents’ cars while impaired twice in one day

The Vancouver-area man was arrested after officers caught him driving impaired twice in one day

UPDATE: Vancouver man dies after crash between motorcycle, transport truck

Police believe speed was a factor in Thursday collision

Trial slated to start Monday for accused killer of Abbotsford cop

Oscar Arfmann faces first-degree murder for death of Const. John Davidson

Most Read