Cohen Inquiry: Outcome of the disease & aquaculture hearings

September 30, 2011 eNews

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Cohen Inquiry: Outcome of the disease & aquaculture hearings

The disease and aquaculture hearings at the Cohen Inquiry have come to a close. While it wasn’t expected that a “smoking gun” would emerge during the hearings with headlines splashed all over the news, the victories for those working to protect BC’s wild salmon from the impacts of net-cage salmon farming were in the quality of information submitted as evidence that is now in the public domain, and available on the Cohen Commission website.

Many documents provide a clearer understanding of the degree to which the Canadian government is cooperating with the salmon farming industry – even including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO’s) public relations strategy to help improve public perception of net-cage salmon farming. The following excerpt from a subsequent editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist captures CAAR’s key argument on the inherent conflict of interest in DFO both regulating the net-cage industry and concerning itself with salmon farming’s image:

“…the DFO should be a neutral, science-based regulator, ensuring that the best evidence is used to set standards for fisheries, farmed and wild, that protect the environment and the public interest. That role is undermined, even corrupted, if the government department becomes an advocate for a particular industry segment.”

Overall, the most beneficial outcome may be the release of fish health, disease, stocking and mortality records for 120 salmon farms from about the last 10 years. These data, historically held out of public view, are essential in determining the presence and rates of disease in open net-cage farms. While the data are often inconclusive or open to interpretation, they nonetheless provide a window into the frequency and severity of disease problems in the net-cages and could give researchers guidance into what warrants further investigation.

Despite these gains, the overall Inquiry process was flawed in the sense that it only allowed a partial look into the crisis facing the Fraser River sockeye salmon. The Commission did not permit the lawyers representing participant groups enough time to adequately question the witnesses, nor did the Commission allow the participant groups enough time to present all of their evidence. After CAAR members and others spent months poring over the Inquiry database, pulling out important pieces of evidence to make public at the Inquiry, much of it still remains hidden and excluded from the information the Commission will use to make its recommendations. For more on the flawed process, read our recent blog post: Prisoner of Hope.

The Cohen Commission will submit its final report to the Prime Minister by June 30, 2012. CAAR members are currently working with the other Conservation Coalition members on the group’s recommendations to the Commission which will be submitted by October 17th. These will be posted the Farmed and Dangerous website when finalized.

DFO recommends exempting Plover Point from halt to new salmon farm application decisions

In August the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) released a public memo stating that decisions on new salmon farm applications in BC (and substantial amendments to existing licences) will be postponed until they consider the recommendations of the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the decline of Fraser sockeye which are not due until the end of June, 2012. This sounds like a reasonable, even precautionary decision given the circumstances. However, an internal DFO document preceding the release of this memo and entered into evidence at the Cohen Inquiry revealed that an exception was recommended in the case of Mainstream Canada’s application for a net-cage salmon farm near Plover Point – the very farm proposal that is currently being opposed by thousands of conservationists, scientists and concerned citizens.

The July 2011 internal document – “Licensing Decisions for British Columbia Aquaculture During the Cohen Commission” states that Mainstream Canada’s Plover Point site would replace one of the company’s existing sites (Cormorant salmon farm) in the same area and that “the new site may have a lower environmental impact at the equivalent production level.” Citing the supposed “environmental benefits” of the new site, the author recommends that this application be treated as an exception so it can continue through the approval process.

Not only does this exemption suggest that DFO is attempting to fast-track the approval of this farm, the rationale used to do so is suspect. DFO refers to the Plover Point application as a “replacement” site, and references ‘equivalent production’, yet the new farm would be more than triple the size of the original farm according to its licensing application. The Cormorant farm is licensed to produce a maximum of 850 metric tonnes of fish and, according to Mainstream Canada’s website, has only been used as a smolt site  (entry of small fish) for four out of forty months; the application for the Plover Point farm shows a maximum production of 3,300 metric tonnes of fish grown out to full market size. Therefore, DFO’s language about ‘equivalent’ production is misleading. 3,300 tonnes is not the equivalent of 850. It is reasonable to expect that the environmental impact will be much higher if Plover Point is allowed to proceed. Mainstream Canada could have chosen to work in the spirit of the UNESCO Biosphere designation and proposed to test a closed containment pilot project as a replacement for their sub-optimal Cormorant site. They have chosen instead to put forward an application for increased open net-cage capacity in Clayoquot Sound.

DFO is caught once again between their conflicting mandates: the department’s primary constitutional conservation mandate to protect wild salmon, and their political mandate to support the salmon farming industry. If the federal government won’t act to protect our oceans and wild salmon, the Province can still take a stand. DFO licenses the farms, but they can’t operate without a provincial tenure. Call on the provincial government to deny Mainstream’s tenure application for a new net-cage farm and to place a moratorium on net-cage tenures in BC»

Read Living Ocean Society’s media release for more information: Mainstream Canada misinforms public on new salmon farm application in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve

180 marine mammals killed on salmon farms in first three months of 2011

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has posted the counts of marine mammals shot or drowned at active salmon farms in BC during the first quarter of 2011. A total of 141 California sea lions were deliberately shot; 37 harbour seals were reported shot or drowned in the nets; and perhaps most worrisome, two Steller sea lions, a species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) as ‘of special concern’, were shot by Mainstream at their West Side farm in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve.

As @Seasaver on Twitter put it: “We all understand ‘dolphin friendly’ tuna, so where’s the ‘seal friendly’ salmon?”

This news, making headlines in British Columbia, continues to demonstrate the risks net-cage salmon farming pose to the marine environment, and the need for an immediate transition to closed containment technology. See the stories:

Too many seals and sea lions killed at BC fish farms, say critics
Salmon farms prove deadly for BC’s sea lions
Seal, sea lion kills by salmon farms rise with population

Even the editorial cartoonists got into the act, check it out.

54 organizations call for closure of salmon farms

The evidence concerning disease and salmon farms that emerged during the Cohen Inquiry hearings this month was alarming. Not only are there frequent high-risk disease outbreaks on open net-cage salmon farms but, as indicated by DFO scientist Kristi Miller’s testimony, there are still large gaps in research and understanding of disease in wild salmon and any links to outbreaks on salmon farms. Even prior to the 2009 crash of Fraser River sockeye salmon, CAAR was calling for the permanent closure of farms in what is collectively known as the Wild Salmon Narrows (WSN) in order to provide just one farm-free channel for out-migrating wild salmon as an emergency interim measure. This area has one of the highest concentrations of open net-cage salmon farms on the Pacific coast. Thirty open net-cage salmon farm feedlots choke the north end of the Georgia Strait and the narrow channels through which wild salmon must migrate.

During the Cohen Inquiry hearings on aquaculture, Georgia Strait Alliance and CAAR delivered to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield a declaration signed by 54 organizations calling for the removal of net-cage salmon farms from this wild salmon migration route. The Wild Salmon Narrows Declaration, supported by local, provincial and national groups, demands the immediate removal of all nine active and inactive salmon farming tenures located in the northern Georgia Strait.

Will Federal Fisheries Minister Ashfield accept the scientific evidence before him; acknowledge the 2009 recommendations made by a think-tank of scientists at SFU to experimentally close these farms to relieve pressure on wild salmon; and finally hear the calls of organizations and concerned citizens that have joined CAAR in demanding that the farms in the WSN be removed? The Canadian government can’t continue to ignore the facts and the interests of Canadian citizens. It’s time for action and the immediate removal of net-cage salmon farms from the Wild Salmon Narrows.

Read the media release; view the signatories.