The Cohen Commission, which began 21 months ago, wrapped up on Monday, though the hearings have not yet officially closed. The federal inquiry reopened earlier this month to hear an additional three days of evidence related to Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) virus monitoring and testing and to examine of the virus is present in wild Pacific salmon.
While we have to wait until June before the inquiry — investigating the 2009 collapse of wild sockeye salmon stocks in British Columbia’s Fraser River — releases its final report and recommendations, the last few days of hearings make one thing clear: Current government and industry practices related to salmon health leaves room for more questions than answers.
ISA, which is highly infectious and has devastated salmon stocks in Chile, made headlines two months ago when Simon Fraser University professor Rick Routledge discovered it in two of 48 sockeye samples taken off of British Columbia’s central coast.
Independent laboratories have found multiple indications of the ISA virus in Pacific salmon, yet the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s Moncton laboratory has failed to confirm these findings.
Kim Klotins, acting national manager for disease control contingency planning at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, told the Commission that to government does not currently gather salmon samples to test for ISA. Plans to do so will not be in place until next year.
Ecojustice, which was at the hearings representing a coalition of conservation groups, raised serious concerns about the adequacy of the proposed plan. We also questioned the accuracy of public statements made by various federal agencies surrounding this issue. Ecojustice also drew attention to the potential shortcomings of DFO’s diagnostic testing which could fail to detect a potentially novel strain of the ISA virus in B.C.
In our final submissions, we made various recommendations including, calling 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.
We look forward to the Commission final report in hopes that it will act as a road map for a brighter, more sustainable future for B.C.’s wild sockeye salmon.