The Cohen Commission has released its report on the decline of Fraser River sockeye, and while there's no smoking gun to account for their diminishing numbers, there are recommendations that the federal government to stop promoting salmon farming.
The Conservatives called for an inquiry into the state of Fraser sockeye after 2009 saw the lowest return in five decades. After years of work, Bruce Cohen, head of the commission, presented the final report to the public.
"Some, I suspect, hoped that our work would find the 'smoking gun' - a single cause that explained the two-decade decline in productivity - but finding that a single event or stressor is responsible is improbable," said Cohen.
John Reynolds, an SFU professor and the Tom Buell B.C. leadership chair in salmon conservation, was not surprised.
"That is what I also felt," he said. "It's actually an interaction of several different problems salmon face."
Reynolds testified as a witness in the hearings and reviewed scientific reports for the commission.
Cohen's final report outlined a number of "stressors" on the salmon as potential causes for their decline, but the inquiry revealed how much is still unknown about those stressors and how they work. Cohen made 75 recommendations for government, and according to Reynolds, management was the most crucial issue. The commission recommended that Fisheries and Oceans Canada no longer be responsible for promoting the salmon farming industry.
"As long as DFO has a mandate to promote salmon farming, there is a risk that it will act in a manner that favours the interests of the salmon farming industry over the health of wild fish stocks," Cohen said.
Cohen also called for implementation of the federal government's "wild salmon policy," a blueprint for conservation and sustainability of wild salmon.
Fin Donnelly, New Westminster MP and NDP deputy fisheries critic, said Cohen's report was comprehensive but blamed government for mismanagement of the fisheries.
"This is a $26-million study, but what it points out is a legacy of Conservative mismanagement, from their inaction on climate change to the gutting of fisheries," he said.
Donnelly highlighted a number of issues in the report affecting wild salmon: climate change, habitat loss, pollution and aquaculture. He called on the government to implement the recommendations.
"They've only said they will look. That's the response I'm getting in the House (of Commons)," he said.
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