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

Chilliwack man feeling helpless about puppy stolen while at church

Evidence of neighbour trespassing and accusing him of dog neglect not enough for RCMP

UPDATE: Missing Chilliwack man has been found

Chilliwack RCMP is thanking the public for keeping an eye out

UPDATED: Chilliwack councillor’s expenses being sent to the RCMP

Decision to have expenses audited and shared with RCMP taken at special meeting of council

Risk of thunderstorm this afternoon for Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland

A special weather statement calls for heavy rain and wind over the next 48 hours

Update: Search called off for missing plane between Edmonton and Chilliwack

Search efforts were concentrated along the Highway 5 corridor between Valemount and Kamloops

VIDEO: Neighbours fear impact of B.C. tent city residents

Greater Victoria residents opposed to campers voice concerns at provincial campground

B.C. premier apologizes for removal of 1950s totem pole at Canada-U.S. border

First Nations say pole was raised at Peace Arch but removed to make way for tourism centre

Tornado touches down in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Environment Canada says cars and homes have been damaged by severe thunderstorms and high wind gusts

An unexpected sight: Bear spotted eating another bear in central B.C.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief finds bear eating another bear’s carcass

Free vet clinic caters to pets of homeless, low income people

The first such clinic in Langley will take place later this month.

RCMP confirm death of missing BC teen Jessica Patrick

No details on cause were given. Case is under criminal investigation and police are asking for tips.

Extradition hearing set for Lower Mainland developer accused of fraud

Mark Chandler will go before the B.C. Court of Appeals early next year.

CUTENESS OVERLOAD: 2 sea otters hold hands at the Vancouver Aquarium

Holding hands is a common – and adorable – way for otters to stay safe in the water

B.C. teen with autism a talented guitarist

Farley Mifsud is gaining fans with every performance

Most Read