Photo: Fisheries cuts fly in face of Cohen Commission

Cutbacks to Fisheries and Oceans Canada won't help efforts to protect salmon. Credit: Jeffery Young.

By Jeffery Young, aquatic biologist

Last week I put on my suit and went to court. Thankfully, it wasn't to face charges or even to fight a parking ticket. I was called as a witness to provide testimony at the federal judicial inquiry into the decline of salmon. I've been working for the past five years to try to help the government implement its own Wild Salmon Policy, and Justice Bruce Cohen wanted to hear how it was going.

Not so well, it turns out. Conservation is enshrined in the policy as the highest priority for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the policy provides practical strategies for ensuring that salmon biodiversity, habitat and ecosystems are protected. Protecting salmon and the ecosystems they depend on is good for Canadians, especially fishermen. It also offers additional benefits for other species, like bears, and it maintains ecosystem services that provide real benefits to us, including economic ones.

So what's the problem? As revealed in the Cohen Commission hearings, and not just because I showed up in my suit, significant problems exist with both the political will and capacity of the government to implement the policy and make the necessary changes in how we manage developments that destroy salmon habitat, fish farms that put wild salmon at risk, and fisheries that are catching too many endangered salmon.

Change is always met with some inertia, in part because some folks fear that it will take away something good. But we've now reached a point where Pacific salmon are in trouble, and the benefits we derive from salmon are not going to be anything like they used to be unless we change our ways and rebuild. The Cohen Commission hearings are also revealing a lot of political interference into science and decision-making, limiting Fisheries and Oceans Canada's ability to do its job.

On the resource side it's also become clear that the government does not have the capacity to take on some of the basic responsibilities it has to conserve salmon, including counting the fish and checking on the status of their habitat, let alone to undertake additional research on key threats like climate change.

And this is where things get particularly troubling, for both Pacific salmon and the efficacy of the Cohen Commission. The federal government is now planning to cut funding to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and by quite a bit. This does not bode well for ensuring we're even maintaining the limited monitoring efforts in place, not to mention increasing them out to support rebuilt and sustainable wild salmon fisheries.

If you care about wild salmon, and it seems that many of you do, let the federal government know that funding to Fisheries and Oceans Canada must at least be maintained for the good of the salmon and the economic benefits they provide. The quickest way to show your support is to sign our latest clean air and healthy oceans action alert.

June 16, 2011

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