But where exactly are our salmon?

British Columbia has long promoted its healthy relationship with salmon. It likely
has something to do with the fact that, in this province, we are lucky enough to be near
the Pacific Ocean, and we have a plethora of rivers that make good highways for fish.
Fish love us, and, in most cases, we love them.

However, the salmon population has been of great concern to both
environmentalists and consumers for a while now. Last year, for example, fisheries
experts were predicting 10.5 million sockeye salmon to grace the waters off the
coast of British Columbia, however a mediocre 1.5 million actually came back.
As a result, the Cohen Commission was established in the November of 2009. It is
the goal of the commission to determine the cause of the serious decline in salmon
population in the Fraser River. If successful, Cohen Commission should be able
to make successful recommendations related to ensuring that the sockeye fishery
industry remains sustainable.

Although there are many potential causes for the decline in the sockeye population,
interest groups like First Nations, environmentalists and those in the tourism
industry are citing sea lice and disease coming out of fish farms as the reason. There
are a lot of fingers pointing blame, however the true cause is yet to be determined.
The Cohen Commission’s purpose is “to conduct the Inquiry without seeking to find
fault on the part of any individual, community or organization, and with the overall
aim of respecting conservation of the sockeye salmon stock and encouraging broad
cooperation among stakeholders.”

Strangely, a recent report stated that close to 25 million sockeye salmon returned
to the waters this year. These fluctuating populations are also making it difficult for
any group to continue arguing its case – regardless of where they’re attempting to
place the blame.

"It's kind of ironic that we sit here and talk about the declining Fraser stocks when
there's a record run, the biggest run in almost a hundred years," Darren Blaney,
former Homalco First Nation chief councillor told


The Cohen Commission, having been together for almost a year, is comprised of
several bodies to represent the different aspects of the sockeye salmon issue. BC
Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen is the sole commissioner. The commission
has a series of participants, all of whom will participate in the process and provide
information to Cohen so that recommendations about a solution may be made.
Participants include the Government of Canada, the Province of BC, the Pacific
Salmon Commission, and several coalitions for First Nations, Aquaculture and

A series of opening hearings were planned to occur over the summer, and at the
conclusion, Commissioner Cohen will submit a report to the Governor General in
Council to outline his preliminary views. The evidentiary hearings for the forum,
which were supposed to start in September, have now been postponed until October

Alongside the official participants of the commission, there will also be an
opportunity for public forums. At this time, community members can make
presentations to the commission about their thoughts on the issue of salmon

The commission plans to investigate several potential causes resulting in the decline
of the salmon population. Things like water pollution, due to contaminants from
pulp mills and sewage treatment plants, and salmon farms, could be contributing
factors. Water pollution sources are present in the Fraser River in what the
Commission calls “measurable concentrations.” Issues with salmon farms come out
of the spread of disease, particularly, the spread of sea lice.

The commission is also investigating urbanization and agricultural activities, climate
change effects and non-retention fisheries – fisheries that accidentally capture
salmon when they’re trying to catch another species.

To assist with the commission is a Scientific Advisory Panel, with scientists from
UBC, SFU, the University of Washington and the CEO and President of the Pacific
Salmon Foundation.


The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) have received a lot of criticism from
other interest groups during the commission investigation – primarily because
many groups feel that the aquaculture in BC has not been monitored adequately.
While aquaculture used to be under the jurisdiction of the provincial government,
recently the responsibility has been transferred to the federal government,
with the federal government taking full jurisdiction on December 18, 2010.
According to Andrew Thomson, Director of Aquaculture Management for Fisheries
and Oceans Canada, the new federal regulations will result in an “increased
environmental monitoring of the aquaculture in BC, as well as increased compliance
monitoring and enforcement,” as stated in a letter to the Courier-Islander.

“Ongoing feedback from all stakeholders and First Nations will be valuable in the assessment and refinements of the operation and regulatory requirements of the program.”
However, according to grassroots groups like Salmon Are Sacred, the DFO is not
doing enough. “Fisheries and Oceans Canada is running blind. They were not aware
of the coming crash last year, nor the biggest return in 100 years this year,” wrote
Alex Morton on the group’s website.

“Fisheries Minister, Gail Shea, was quoted recently saying Mother Nature is in
charge … as she hands out money to the Norwegian salmon farming industry to make
a sea lice vaccine to fight the drug resistant lice that DFO told me all winter does not
exist,” says Morton.

The group celebrates salmon and their website displays many direct-action ways to
get involved in helping to promote the importance of salmon.


It would appear that the return of sockeye salmon is becoming more and more
difficult to predict. The Cohen Commission is a lengthy process, and things keep
getting pushed back due to an overwhelming amount of evidence being provided by
the DFO.

Every group involved in the commission has a lot of evidence that they need to bring
forward, and it will certainly be difficult for Cohen to avoid placing blame. Although
it is likely that there are a combination of reasons that are leading to the decline and
then influx of sockeye salmon populations, the human population is floundering
because once again, nature has provided them with something for which they do not
have a definitive answer. When nature hands us mysteries, we create commissions.
Let’s just hope that BC hasn’t forgotten about salmon by the time the commission
finally makes its recommendation.

//Samantha Thompson
News Editor

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