Photo: Government says it's protecting wild salmon, but words are not enough

The hearings revealed lots of important evidence about impacts to salmon (Credit: Sam Beebe / Ecotrust via Flickr).

By Jeffery Young

The Cohen Commission, which is investigating the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon, reached an important milestone on October 17. More than a year of oral hearings have ended, close to 2,000 documents have been marked as exhibits, and participants to the inquiry (including us) have made their final written submissions to Justice Bruce Cohen. As members of the "Conservation Coalition," which is an official participant to the inquiry, we'll get the chance to comment on the other participant's submissions, and present ours, but for the most part all that's left is for Justice Cohen to write up his report with recommendations to the federal government (due by June of next year).

The hearings revealed lots of important evidence about impacts to salmon, including the immediate threats of open net-cage salmon farms, overfishing of endangered stocks, and habitat loss. Regardless of the individual issues, it became clear throughout the hearings that the government is not doing its job of protecting salmon and the places where they live.

Science is stifled, core monitoring (counting fish) and habitat enforcement are being cut (again), and despite the fact that Canada has the best salmon conservation policy in the world, we have yet to implement it. The Wild Salmon Policy was released in 2005.

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What government officials are really good at is saying they're protecting salmon. I sometimes got the sense from the hearings that a government employee's main job is to claim that everything is a-okay. That's a remarkable contrast to the actual evidence presented, which regularly showed how much trouble the salmon are in and how crippled government scientists and managers are by lack of resources.

Here's what we had to say: Restore the independence and transparency of science within government, provide support (political and financial) to core functions necessary to conserve salmon and their ecosystems, get on with implementing the Wild Salmon Policy and immediately address key threats, like getting open net-cage salmon farms off wild salmon migration routes and ending the overfishing of endangered stocks.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada needs more money to do these things. I'd start by redistributing money within government from promoting industry, and themselves, to actually doing their job.

October 18, 2011

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