Friends of Clayoquot Sound were heartened by the final report of the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River. Salmon runs in Clayoquot Sound are equally vulnerable to the stressors outlined by Justice Cohen—the rationale to limit his inquiry to Fraser River sockeye was political, not scientific. The globally rare temperate rainforests and wildlife of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve are utterly dependent on wild salmon, and Cohen’s recommendations are applicable here as well.
Several of his recommendations will most certainly apply more broadly than just to Fraser River sockeye. He spoke of DFO’s conflicting twin mandate to both protect wild salmon, and to also promote the salmon aquaculture industry. At a press conference Cohen stated that “DFO’s first priority must be the health of the wild stocks”, and that “promotion of salmon farming should be transferred to a different part of the Executive branch.”
Cohen also spoke of the need to revise salmon farm siting criteria “to account for…migration routes and for the most up-to-date knowledge about the risks associated with farms.” Recommendation 17 states that DFO “should apply revised siting criteria to all licensed salmon farm sites. Farms that no longer comply with siting criteria should be promptly removed or relocated…”
Thirdly, Cohen’s report reflected concerns about disease transfer from farms to wild stocks. At the press conference he stated that “salmon farms may be causing disease in wild fish”, that “if such harm does in fact occur, the harm posed…is of a serious or irreversible nature”, and that “a devastating disease could sweep through a population, killing large numbers of wild fish without scientists being aware of it.”
Cohen’s report confirms FOCS concerns about the potential negative impacts of fish farming on wild salmon, and about DFO’s inability to protect wild populations while promoting salmon aquaculture. In light of Cohen’s report, given the global significance of Clayoquot’s ecosystems and the decline of local wild salmon runs, FOCS has a recommendation of our own: Mainstream Canada should not install their contentious Plover Point fish farm until the new siting criteria have been established. What’s the rush? They will just have to remove it, if the new siting criteria so decree. And DFO approved the new Plover Point site just weeks before Cohen’s final report, knowing that his recommendations would have wide implications for salmon aquaculture.