The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) welcomes the recommendations of BC Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen and their relevancy to the situation with wild Atlantic salmon on the east coast, according to an news release Friday. 

Bill Taylor, President of ASF said, “While this report is about the decline of Fraser River sockeye, its messages are  definitely reverberating across  Atlantic Canada, where government is allowing devastating impacts on wild Atlantic salmon by salmon farming in open net pens in the ocean.”

Wild salmon vulnerable
Endangered and threatened wild Atlantic salmon in southern Newfoundland, in the inner and outer Bay of Fundy and along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia are vulnerable to the effects of migrating near the open net pens in the ocean and interactions with escaped farmed salmon that enter our wild salmon rivers.

Mr. Taylor continued, “It is my fervent hope that the Canadian government will heed the recommendations of the $26 million Cohen enquiry.”

The 1191-page report is a wealth of information and advice, whether you live on the east or west coasts, or somewhere in between”, continued Mr. Taylor.  Justice Cohen recognized the potential conflict in the mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to both develop salmon farming and protect Canada’s wild salmon.  He recommends that the Government of Canada remove from the mandate of DFO the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product.

Justice Cohen’s recommends that there be a freeze in Discovery Islands on net-pen salmon farm production in the path of migrating wild salmon until 2020. He advises that, if by this date, DFO cannot confidently say that the risk of serious harm to wild stocks is minimal, the department should then prohibit all net-pen salmon farms from operating. “We strongly concur,” said Mr. Taylor, “that DFO should ramp up its research on the impacts of open sea cage salmon aquaculture on wild salmon and remove these operations when scientific conclusions indicate this is necessary to avoid impact on the health of wild salmon.”

ACAR asks for hold on salmon cage expansion
Justice Cohen’s call for a freeze on open sea-cage production mirrors the call on government by a coalition of opponents to open net-pen aquaculture in Nova Scotia, including the Nova Scotia Salmon Association and ASF.  The Atlantic Coalition for Aquaculture Reform (ACAR) is made up of 114 communities, conservation organizations, lobster fishermen, salmon anglers, and the tourism industry. “We are demanding of the provincial government a hold on any expansion of the sea-cage finfish aquaculture industry until meaningful public consultation occurs and there are assurances that Nova Scotia’s valuable natural environment will not be negatively impacted”, continued Mr. Taylor.

Justice Cohen recommended more transparency in management of salmon farms and the inclusion of non-government and non-industry researchers to access fish health databases to assess risks posed to wild stocks.   He saw real difficulty in having DFO Science’s research priorities for fish health directed by “clients” such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, whose mandate is not the conservation of wild fish but trade and economic concerns, or by aquaculture management, whose focus is sustainability of the aquaculture industry.

“Another observation that hit home is Justice Cohen’s recognition of DFO’s policy creation with no follow-through such as the Habitat Policy of 1986 and Wild Salmon Policy, said Mr. Taylor.  “DFO has created a policy for wild Atlantic salmon too that sits on a shelf because the department has no money to carry it out.”

Fish and habitat primary
A message given by Justice Cohen throughout his report is that DFO’s paramount regulatory responsibility is the protection of fish and their habitat, and that the department has no right to transfer its responsibilities.

ASF shares Justice Cohen’s concerns with amendments to the Fisheries Act, which in his words, “Expands the circumstances in which harm to fish habitat may be authorized, provides greater discretion to the minister to authorize exceptions to the prohibitions, and allows damage to fish habitat where there is no permanent alternation or destruction of habitat or death of fish.” 

Bill Taylor concluded, “We have brought these concerns and others to the attention of DFO.  We can only hope that Justice Cohen’s recommendations, concerns and advice will grab the attention of the Government of Canada to take action on the assaults on Canada’s wild salmon, both Atlantic and Pacific.”