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Cohen Commission report makes 75 recommendations on the future of Fraser River sockeye salmon

The Honourable Bruce Cohen wrapped up his commission into the state of the Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks by making 75 recommendations in the commission’s final report on how to prevent further decline of the species.

The commission that spanned nearly three years and examined over three million pages of documents has failed to find a single cause that would explain the decades long decline of the sockeye salmon in the Fraser River.

Instead, Cohen says the inquiry uncovered a variety of factors possibly at play and demonstrated how much is still unknown about individual stressors.

The report suggests further research is needed to understand long-term productivity and sustainability of the sockeye salmon.

Cohen also claims he has heard enough evidence to conclude that climate change is a significant stressor for sockeye and in combination with other stressors may determine the fate of the fishery.

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A big chunk of the report concentrated on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)and its role and responsibilities when it comes to the Fraser River sockeye salmon conservation and monitoring.

Cohen emphasizes the importance of enhanced implementation of the existing Wild Salmon and Habitat policies by DFO.

“Creating a policy is not enough; it is through implementation that policies bring change,” said Cohen in the report.

“It would not be appropriate to fault DFO for failing to take decisive action on any particular stressor. However, DFO’s lack of research into the various stressors means that it had no capacity to draw firm conclusions about the decline…and was thereby precluded from taking remedial action in a timely manner.”

One of the more contentious issues in DFO’s assessment by Cohen involves the department’s role in promoting salmon farms.

Cohen suggests there is a potential conflict of interest for DFO in promoting salmon farms and regulating them.

He recommends DFO no longer be responsible for promoting salmon farms as an industry and farmed salon as a product.

Global BC’s Linda Aylesworth asked why the government is promoting salmon farms:

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Another concern around salmon farming in the introduction of the so-called “exotic diseases” into wild salmon stocks — an issue that has been raised by environmentalists on many occasions in the past.

The Commissioner ruled the concern is valid, and concluded there should be a freeze on net-pen salmon farm production in the Discovery Islands — between Vancouver Island and B.C.’s mainland — until 2020.

If by that date, DFO is unable to conclude the risks of serious harm to wild stocks are minimal, Cohen suggests it should prohibit all net-pen salmon farms from operating in the Discovery Islands.

Cohen says he wants to see his recommendations be implemented immediately in light of possible delays and shrinking resources.

“I urge the federal government, in the interests of conserving the iconic species of salmon, to heed my findings and to implement these recommendations,” said Cohen.

“If implementing the recommendations is delayed, the ongoing threats to the socks will make remedial action all the more challenging when it does begin.”