Canadian Salmon Inquiry Exposes Agency Conflicts; US Needs Similar Effort

The Cohen Commission of Inquiry (http://www.cohencommission.ca/en/), an independent group formed to investigate the declining Fraser River sockeye salmon runs, released its final report on Wednesday. The report calls for an end to the split mandate of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the Canadian federal agency that both promotes aquaculture and is supposed to protect wild salmon stocks. BC Supreme Court Justice Bruce I. Cohen was in charge of the investigation that held 133 days of hearings, examined over three million pages of documents, and took two years to complete its work. Another key finding of the final report is that federal and provincial laws and policies to protect habitat and wild salmon stocks are not adequately funded, implemented, or enforced.

“The Commission's final report is a brave and sincere effort that uncovers a fundamental conflict of interest within the primary salmon management agency, and I commend their work,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Unfortunately, it’s the same story down here. Our agencies have policies that promote aquaculture and commercial fishing, and they also operate fish hatcheries, many of which are still harming wild salmon. Their legal responsibilities for protecting wild fish and habitat are less important to them, even though sound science is the basis for those responsibilities.”

The Cohen report also calls for additional measures to address disease concerns from salmon farms, including greater transparency and data sharing with non-governmental researchers. Overall, the report makes seventy-five specific recommendations, including having an independent body evaluate DFO’s progress in implementing its own seven-year-old Wild Salmon Policy.

“Washington adopted its Wild Salmonid Policy in 1997 and fifteen years later it has not been implemented,” added Beardslee. “Other policies and recovery efforts are either inadequate or they have not been fully implemented. It is unwise for us to continue on the same path without our own version of a Cohen Commission review. Justice Cohen exposed the problems and has made reasonable recommendations in order to recover BC’s wild salmon. Our salmon deserve no less."

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Wild Fish Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery and conservation of the Northwest region’s wild-fish ecosystems, with over 2,500 members. Wild Fish Conservancy’s staff of over twenty professional scientists, advocates, and educators works to promote technically and socially responsible habitat, hatchery, and harvest management to better sustain the region’s wild-fish heritage. For more information, visit us at wildfishconservancy.org or follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/wildfishconservancy.