After more than two years of working on the issue, I am pleased with Justice Bruce Cohen's report from the Judicial Inquiry into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon. The report has a strong conservation focus and makes 75 recommendations that, if implemented by the federal government, would go a long way toward recovering Pacific salmon in Canada.
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In fall 2009, after one of the most disastrously low returns of Fraser River sockeye salmon, I travelled to Ottawa on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation to meet with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and other decision-makers.
My focus was to convince the federal government to commit to a Pacific salmon rebuilding plan, supported by independent science and bringing together the diverse communities and stakeholders that benefit from healthy salmon. I suggested that an independent review of existing practices would be useful, but that we already had much of the information we needed.
As we know, they chose a full federal judicial inquiry. Although I was initially frustrated that this would mean a delay in a commitment to salmon rebuilding, the David Suzuki Foundation saw this as an opportunity for change.
After gaining official participant status, we helped ensure that the inquiry looked into problems within the current management system that affect our salmon, environment and communities. And we guided the inquiry to use the 2005 Wild Salmon Policy as a benchmark to evaluate performance. This federal policy is world class for salmon management and conservation.
The result is a thorough report that offers a blueprint for an integrated salmon rebuilding plan for Canada.
- Strong recommendations, with timelines, resource levels and reporting requirements, to implement the existing Wild Salmon Policy and Habitat Management Policy. Fully implementing these policies would make Canada a world leader in salmon management, supporting fisheries and other salmon-dependent communities.
- Recognition that open net-cage fish farming near wild salmon migration routes by the Discovery Islands presents a high risk to wild salmon. Recommendation for a freeze on fish farm expansion, and removal of farms if impacts of fish farms cannot be mitigated by 2020.
- Recommendations that promoting fish farming be removed from Fisheries and Oceans Canada's mandate, as promoting the industry while being charged with regulating it is a conflict of interest.
- Creating a wild salmon champion within government responsible for making sure we follow the Wild Salmon Policy.
Now the real work must begin. We share the view of Acting Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in her response to the report: We, like all British Columbians, want to see a sustainable and prosperous salmon fishery for years to come. Salmon provide numerous benefits to people, but DSF also understands that healthy salmon populations are crucial for many other species, including trees, bears, orcas and eagles.
We know what the problems are, and now we have a clear blueprint to fix them. We will continue to work hard to ensure that the federal government turns these words into action, rebuilding Pacific salmon for the benefit of all.
Take action for wild salmon: Tell your MP and the Prime Minister you want to see Cohen Commission recommendations put into action.