Leaders agree Fraser River sockeye need more protection

First Nations people in the Cariboo Chilcotin are among those calling for action to rebuild Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks.

Hon. Bruce Cohen’s 1,100 page reported titled The Uncertain Future of Fraser River Sockeye www.cohencommission.ca is an interesting report with very strong recommendations, said  Dr. Craig Orr, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

“We need to see how it is going to be implemented and what action government takes,” Orr told the Tribune.

In the report Cohen discusses the causes for the decades-long decline in productivity of Fraser River sockeye salmon and makes 75 recommendations to improve the future sustainability of the fishery.

While he acknowledged that some hoped the report would find a “smoking gun” or single cause that explained the two-decade decline in productivity, Cohen said finding that “a single event or stressor is responsible is improbable.”

“We haven’t gone through the report in detail,” Orr said Oct. 31, the day the report was released, but noted his preliminary look at the report showed it uncovered potential causes, including that Fraser Sockeye are experiencing thermal stress related to climate change. “Cohen said he didn’t know exactly what to do about that.”

Orr pointed out that Cohen was also very clear that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is suffering from a conflicted mandate — promoting salmon farms and regulating them — and recommended DFO no longer be responsible for promoting salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product.

Cohen suggested that promoting salmon farms be mandated out of DFO and given to another branch of government, and that DFO should regulate salmon farming and protect wild fish.

“A point that made us cheer as conservationists was his emphasis that DFO should fully implement and fund Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy and its Habitat Protection Policy,” Orr said. “Both policies are languishing at this time, and Cohen suggested there be a dedicated staff person at the senior level in DFO to ensure the Wild Salmon Policy is fully implemented. He was also quite critical of the recent omnibus bill that made changes in the fisheries act and made it more difficult to protect salmon habitat.”

The Northern Shuswap Tribal Council (NSTC) is a member of the First Nations Coalition and was granted standing at the inquiry.

Gord Sterrit, NSTC fisheries manager, said as a participant he advocated the importance of First Nations involvement in fisheries management activities, such as stock assessment by NSTC within its traditional territory, which includes the Quesnel Lake and Horsefly watersheds.

“Justice Cohen made some valuable recommendations that if adhered to by the federal government could be instrumental in protecting the wild salmon that are important to this province.  Overall the process was good for Fraser Sockeye.  The report makes recommendations for protection and improvement of habitat,” Sterrit said.

Applauding Cohen’s recommendation that the Wild Salmon and Habitat policies be implemented, Sterrit said in the Cariboo damage has occurred from un-monitored agriculture and mining activities that could be addressed by the implementation of both policies.

“The NSTC fisheries department has been requesting that DFO fully honour the WSP policy since it was introduced in 2005 and hopefully DFO will finally be forced to do so,” he said.

Agreeing with the recommendation that there be increased monitoring and enforcement of activities that affect fish and fish habitat, Sterrit alleged there are many activities that DFO does not currently enforce due to lack of capacity and resources.

“Within the Cariboo Region there are many situations where deleterious substances are being introduced to fish-bearing waters.

The discharge of tailings pond water is one example.”

Pleased that Cohen criticized the changes that the federal government made by passing Bill C-38, Sterrit said the NSTC fisheries department as well as many others have huge concerns with the changes and the effects that they will have on salmon.

“In essence the federal government alleviated protection of fisheries habitat through the implementation of this bill and acted without fully realizing the implications to wild salmon.”

Numerous processes were suspended by the federal government, including treaty negotiations for fish with First Nations, as well as international processes (Pacific Salmon Commission – Fraser Sockeye Annex renewal) with the United States, Sterrit said.

Without waiting for the results of the Cohen Inquiry, the government also pushed through changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Sterrit said.

“While the NSTC fisheries department is excited for the most part with the recommendations of Justice Cohen, the actions of the Federal Government in the past year have been less than encouraging.”

Chief Joe Alphonse, Tsilhqot’in National Government chair, issued a press release Nov. 5 stating the Tsilhqot’in are pleased the report has been issued, yet remain concerned the Cohen Commission did not have the resources to visit any of the Tsilhqot’in communities or had a mandate to consult directly with the TNG as a First Nation.

He argued that First Nations traditional knowledge about the salmon and its habitat in headwaters would have helped, and suggested that knowledge be used to guide the federal government’s response of the report.

“There has to be a balance of western science and First Nations knowledge while trying to determine what happened, how to develop a recovery strategy together, and this consultation cannot be after the fact,” Alphonse said and called on the government of Canada to take immediate action to respond to the Cohen Report and to meaningfully involve the Tsilhqot’in and all other First Nations in developing a response.

“With careful Tsilhqot’in management, we have preserved the most resilient sockeye run in B.C. – the Chilko run. We have done this through selective fishing and preservation of our pristine headwaters at Chilko and Taseko Lakes,” Alphonse said.

Without waiting for the results of the Cohen Inquiry, the government also pushed through changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Sterrit said.

“While the NSTC fisheries department is excited for the most part with the recommendations of Justice Cohen, the actions of the Federal Government in the past year have been less than encouraging.”

Chief Joe Alphonse, Tsilhqot’in National Government chair, issued a press release Nov. 5 stating the Tsilhqot’in are pleased the report has been issued, yet remain concerned the Cohen Commission did not have the resources to visit any of the Tsilhqot’in communities or had a mandate to consult directly with the TNG as a First Nation. He argued that First Nations traditional knowledge about the salmon and its habitat in headwaters would have helped, and suggested that knowledge be used to guide the federal government’s response to the report.

“There has to be a balance of western science and First Nations knowledge while trying to determine what happened, how to develop a recovery strategy together, and this consultation cannot be after the fact,” Alphonse said and called on the government of Canada to take immediate action to respond to the Cohen Report and to meaningfully involve the Tsilhqot’in and all other First Nations in developing a response.

“With careful Tsilhqot’in management, we have preserved the most resilient sockeye run in B.C. – the Chilko run. We have done this through selective fishing and preservation of our pristine headwaters at Chilko and Taseko Lakes,” Alphonse said.

 

 

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