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Action on salmon sorely lacking, critic says

Government's promises lack substance in face of declining stocks
By Mike Youds
August 10, 2016 3:42 P.M.
Tourists photograph spawning Adams River sockeye.

Rosy language in the absence of concrete action isn’t inspiring confidence in a pledge by Ottawa to follow through on recommendations for sockeye conservation that gathered dust for four years. 

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominique LeBlanc visited B.C. Tuesday, pledging to fully implement the recommendations of the 2012 Cohen Commission on Fraser River sockeye.

LeBlanc said Fisheries and Oceans Canada has already implemented more than 30 of the recommendations and is working in collaboration with the province, Environment and Climate Change Canada and other stakeholders and Indigenous groups to act on them.

“We value the work done by Justice Cohen and the Commission and we will continue to act on their recommendations in our efforts to support the conservation and sustainability of Pacific salmon,” LeBlanc said. “We also look forward to consulting with Indigenous groups, other partners, and stakeholders on the Wild Salmon policy implementation plan as we continue our efforts to ensure the future of this vital resource.”

A spokesman for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society said Wednesday he is not convinced of the Trudeau government’s commitment after reviewing a portion of its update on the issue.

“I’m afraid it looks like DFO is providing an overly rosy picture of actions they’ve already taken, but they don’t provide any concrete evidence of the action,” said Stan Proboszcz, a fisheries biologist with the society. 

For years, the society tracked the Ottawa’s dismal progress in implementing the Cohen recommendations. The group was on hand for LeBlanc’s announcement Tuesday.

“I think it’s just a slightly shifty language they’re using,” Proboszcz said. “That doesn’t provide me with any confidence.”

Ottawa’s promise arrives as test fisheries and daily escapements continue to track well below pre-season expectations for sockeye migration.

Proboszcz used the siting criteria for salmon farms as an example. The government claims to have implemented a recommendation calling for the criteria to be based on new scientific information. Critics of salmon farming say the industry has hurt wild stocks through exposure to disease.

But when the Watershed Watch Society and other NGOs engaged in the new process, they found it was flawed and lacking scientific basis.

Proboszcz said he is encouraged by the government’s willingness to at least communicate on the issue, something not done by the previous government.

“I do have hope, but we certainly need more than media releases and press conferences,” he said.

The Liberal government has committed $197.1 million over five years to increase DFO’s oceans and freshwater science program including research and monitoring to improve the health of fish stocks, understand the impacts of ecosystem stressors, and support sustainable aquaculture. Funding will add 29 more scientists, biologists, oceanographers and technicians in the Pacific region, who will be responsible for supporting Cohen  recommendations, LeBlanc said.

Coen urged Ottawa to address what he considered a conflict of interest in DFO's responsibility for promoting salmon farming while protecting wild salmon stocks, but LeBlanc didn't accept that as a conflict.

"It's a concern within DFO that they promote the industry and that may impact on the status of wild salmon," Proboszcz said. "I think folks are going to have to hold this government's feet to the fire."

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