Cohen commission final report

The final report on Justice Bruce Cohen’s CAD 26 million investigation of British Columbia’s Fraser River sockeye salmon, shows no “smoking gun” for the 17-year decline of the stocks.

“The Uncertain Future of Fraser River Sockeye” gives 75 recommendations to improve the future sustainability of the fishery. While the inquiry uncovered extensive information about potential causes for the decline of Fraser River sockeye, it also showed how much is still unknown about individual stressors as well as cumulative effects and delayed effects. Cohen also found that stressors specific to the Fraser River, as well as region-wide influences, may both have contributed to the long-term decline. Cohen said that further research is crucial to understanding the decline, especially in the areas of migratory and feeding patterns.

Cohen recommended that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) no longer be responsible for promoting salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product. He concluded that salmon farms along the sockeye migration route in the Discovery Islands have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to aggravate endemic diseases that can have a negative impact on Fraser River sockeye.

“As long as DFO has a mandate to promote salmon farming, there is a risk that it will act in a manner that favors the interests of the salmon farming industry over the health of wild fish stocks,” he said. “Mitigation measures should not be delayed in the absence of scientific certainty.”

Cohen recommended a freeze on net-pen salmon farm production in the Discovery Islands until 30 September 2020, and if by that date DFO cannot say the risk of harm the wild stocks is minimal, all net-pen salmon farms in the area should be prohibited. In addition, if before that date the government determines that salmon farms pose more than a minimal risk to Fraser River sockeye, the government prohibit their operation immediately.

“The shrinking resources of government, which may result in delays in implementing reforms and research, mean that the stressors to which sockeye are exposed and the deterioration of sockeye habitat will continue,” Cohen said. “I urge the federal government, in the interests of conserving this iconic species of salmon, to heed my findings and to implement these recommendations.”

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