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Cohen Commission Inquiry Into BC Salmon Commences

Salmonids Sustainability +2 more

CANADA - A long investigation began today (25th October) into the decline of the British Columbian (BC) Fraser River Sockeye Salmon.

Hearings will run primarily Mondays through Thursdays and are scheduled from 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2 pm to 4 pm each day. These hearings are open to the public and will be held at the Federal Court at 701 West Georgia Street, 8th floor. Evidentiary hearings will run through mid- December, and continue in the new year.

Currently, topics scheduled for the first two weeks are: Fraser River Sockeye life cycle; Perspectives on the Aboriginal and treaty rights framework underlying the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery; Conservation, sustainability and stewardship; and DFO’s organizational structure.

Based on its findings, the commission will make recommendations for improving the future sustainability of the sockeye salmon fishery in the Fraser River, including, as required, any changes to the policies, practices and procedures of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in relation to the management of the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery.

"We're looking forward to the opportunity to clarify misinformation that's been presented to the public about our business as well as bring forward the large amounts of research and planning our industry has conducted to ensure our operations are sustainable," says Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

"There has already been a lot of work done by many people both within the commission and from the general public," adds Ms Walling. "We're glad to be at this stage and to see this complex process proceeding."

The BC Salmon Farmers Association has standing at the commission, headed by Justice Bruce Cohen. In June, Justice Cohen released a discussion paper outlining the issues he would be investigating - among them are the Department of Fisheries and Oceans regulations, harvesting methods, fish biology, water pollution, salmon farming, logging, hydro, urbanization, climate change and more.

Supporting the wild salmon population is an important cause for everyone and the salmon farming industry is confident that the Cohen Commission will see the big picture. Changing climate conditions, the global warming effects, changes in ocean currents, the impact due to economic development and urbanisation are just a few of the many other factors which need to be considered.

The salmon farming industry has been consistent - in that the practice, the productivity, fish management, disease and health management have all been constant regardless of the sockeye return fluctuations.

There have been significant population variations in BC's wild salmon numbers although the farms have not changed how they operate; suggesting that farms are not responsible for these differences in return numbers.

"We know our numbers are good, our farms have remained the same and there haven't been any notable differences. There is a lot to consider when discussing the Sockeye. The workers and people from the salmon farming industry have faith in the system", said Ms Walling.

Over the last few months, the commission has hosted open forums, accepted public submissions, conducted observational visits and developed the process to come - all against the backdrop of a Sockeye return hailed as the largest in 100 years.