Investigation into Fraser sockeye declines essential despite huge returns

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Investigation into Fraser sockeye declines essential despite huge returns

With millions of fish returning to the Fraser River this summer, there has been some coverage in the mainstream media questioning the value of the Cohen Inquiry now that the “problem” appears to be “solved.” At a glance this seems a fair question, but the media is only simplifying a complex issue since one good year against a decade of decline does not signal recovery. In fact, the high return suggests the opposite of “problem solved” since it creates even more questions about the predictability, sustainability and management of Fraser sockeye populations. This makes the Cohen Inquiry not only essential but timely.

Article after article on this year’s return states “no one knows why” so many fish are coming back. Just like last year no one knew why millions went missing. Clearly, there are major gaps in understanding and serious questions about the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s (DFO) management practices. The Cohen Inquiry is positioned to dig deep into the Fraser sockeye mystery and provide solid recommendations for improving the overall sustainability of these fish.

Only after implementing a management plan that protects wild fish from threats such as open net pen salmon farms – and seeing many years of healthy returns on all 40 Fraser sockeye stocks – could we hope to call the Fraser River sockeye problem “solved.”

For more on this year’s return read our blog post: Abundant Fraser sockeye returns in 2010 not a sign of general recovery

Draft Pacific aquaculture regulations must be amended to prioritize health of wild fish and ecosystems

The Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s (DFO) first draft of the new Pacific aquaculture regulations offered no improvement in the way open net pen salmon aquaculture would be practiced in British Columbia. With the first public comment period now over, CAAR hopes that its submission along with those of many others who weighed in over the past two months will result in significant changes that see DFO prioritizing its mandate to protect wild fish and encouraging the transition to closed containment technology.

The regulations need to be effective, transparent, equitable and enforceable with effective environmental performance standards clearly set out in the regulations. The major problems with the current proposed regulations are:

  • License conditions are undefined and discretionary
  • No defined standards for sea lice management, waste control, escapes, chemical or antibiotic use etc.
  • De facto exemptions from key Fisheries Act provisions and thereby the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA)
  • No defined compliance and enforcement regime
  • No mechanisms for transparency beyond the Access to Information Act
  • Benefits to industry, not the ecosystem

CAAR made seven main recommendations for changes to the draft:

  1. Requirements for operating must be in the regulations, rather than individual licenses or a future Integrated Management Aquaculture Plan.
  2. No new farms or expansions of net pens.
  3. The Regulations must prioritize protection of the environment and wild species.
  4. The regulations must ensure the aquaculture industry is regulated transparently and that the public has access to key environmental and farm information and is consulted on key decisions.
  5. DFO’s conflicting mandate of both regulating and promoting aquaculture must be separated to different departments or Ministries.
  6. Enforcement, penalties and fees must be in the regulations.
  7. Regulations governing open net-cage salmon aquaculture must be interim and DFO must develop a transition strategy and timeline to move the existing industry to closed containment.

Click here to see CAAR’s submission and recommendations.

Over the next couple of months, DFO will review all comments submitted and make amendments to the draft. Once this is complete the proposed regulations will be submitted for review and approval by the Governor in Council.

DFO has the opportunity to set the aquaculture industry on a more sustainable trajectory while providing greater protection to wild fish. However, it remains to be seen if the final regulations will embrace this opportunity or not.

In Canada, contact your MP and ask them to seize this opportunity to protect wild salmon by ensuring that DFO makes significant changes to the draft regulations in order to reflect public input calling for strong, effective regulation.

Canadian organic aquaculture standards to be re-drafted based on public input

A draft standard for Canadian organic aquaculture was released to the public for review and comment over the summer. A mockery of the organic label, the draft allows for the use of pesticides, antibiotics and non-organic feed inputs in the production of farmed fish, including salmon, and if accepted, could undermine confidence in the credibility of all organic labelling.

In response, many people submitted individual comments or signed our petition to stop the “organic” labelling of net pen farmed salmon. Over 40 groups from the US and Canada sent a joint letter to the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and issued a press release objecting to organic standards that allow net pens, antibiotics and chemicals, and the use of much more wild fish as feed than farmed fish produced. A huge thanks to all of you who participated and we hope the CGSB has heard our message loud and clear: net pen farmed salmon is not and never will be organic!

The CGSB is now forming a multi-stakeholder committee to review comments and re-draft the standards. Only when the voting members of the committee have agreed on the standards can they become regulation. CAAR member Shauna MacKinnon has applied for voting status on this committee and is currently awaiting confirmation.

We’ll keep you posted on the status of this issue and future opportunities for public comment. In the meantime, check out our new blog post: Proposed organic standards for farmed fish fail to reflect the general principles of organic production.