Can wild salmon coexist with farmed?
British Columbians love their wild salmon. Eighty-five percent of B.C. residents support making wild Pacific salmon the province’s official symbol.
That they have rallied around wild Fraser River sockeye salmon and rolled up their collective sleeves to find out what’s causing the decline of sockeye stocks should come as little surprise.
When an official answer comes next year, it could mean changes at the province’s many salmon farms, which annually produce about 70,000 metric tons of farmed salmon, about 75 percent of Canada’s and 3.5 percent of global farmed salmon production.
The failure of 9 million sockeye to return to the Fraser River in 2009 captured national attention and forced the fishery to close for the third consecutive year, dramatically punctuating two decades of decline. That November, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed the Honorable Bruce Cohen, Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, to lead the federal inquiry into the sockeye’s decline. The run in 2010 was robust, before falling again this year.
The Cohen Commission, as the judicial inquiry about to enter its third year is known, is not supposed to find any individual, community or organization at fault. Instead, it’s charged with investigating the decline’s major suspected causes, which may include aquaculture, environmental changes, marine environmental conditions, predators, diseases and water temperatures.
Its final report, due next summer, will detail the state of the sockeye stock and recommend ways to improve the fishery’s sustainability, including potential changes to Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) policies and practices that manage the fishery and regulate farming.
The commission’s work has meant a new arena in which to air controversy over salmon farming: Ten initial public hearings, millions of pages of scientific data, documents and transcribed testimony, more than 140 days of evidentiary hearings over two years, 12 technical reports — including one on salmon farming impacts known as “project 5” — and two years of headlines.