After participating in two years of proceedings and submitting thousands of pages of evidence, Ecojustice was on hand for the public release of the Cohen Commission’s final report yesterday in Vancouver.

In the final report, the Honourable Bruce Cohen — charged with overseeing the federal inquiry into 2009’s shocking decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon — makes 75 recommendations to prevent future collapse of the iconic fish.

The report concludes that a range of factors influenced the salmon’s decline, including river contaminants, shoreline development and climate change. The report goes on to say that it is unlikely that a single event or stressor is wholly responsible for the poor 2009 run, in which 10 million fish were expected, but only 1.4 million turned up.

Ecojustice represented a coalition of conservation groups at the Commission and in our final submissions, we called on the federal government to live up to its mandate to protect and restore Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks by shifting effort and funding back to science and conservation rather than promoting and funding industries like aquaculture.

At first blush, we are fairly pleased with the report, which clocks in at more than a thousand pages and has several high points:

  • Calls for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to implement the Wild Salmon Policy and Habitat Management Policy;
  • Recommendations to make science public and increase transparency of information and decision-making; and
  • Identification of potential conflict of interest in DFO’s dual roles as a promoter and a regulator of the aquaculture industry.

“I was pleased that many of Commissioner’s Cohen’s recommendations mirrored similar recommendations that the Conservation Coalition made with regard to the implementation of the Habitat Policy and the Wild Salmon Policy,” Tim Leadem, Ecojustice lead counsel said yesterday.

“I was also pleased that Commissioner Cohen recognized that there is a conflict of interest in DFO promoting salmon aquaculture and its role in conserving wild stocks of pacific salmon.”

The report was also critical of the federal government’s recent overhaul of the Fisheries Act.

Justice Cohen called Bill C-38, the budget bill that made sweeping changes to Canada’s environmental laws, “disappointing” and criticized the bill’s lack of consultation with stakeholders. Even though he was in the midst of completing this Commission’s final report when the bill laws tabled, he said he was not informed of impending amendments.

Overall, the final report is a solid step forward for better fisheries management and salmon conservation in B.C. But as is often the case with policy issues, the devil will be in the details — and many interested parties will now look to DFO and the federal government to see how these recommendations will be implemented.