Justice Cohen will not find a link between wild salmon declines and farmed fish if he interprets the expert testimonies the same way as B.C. Salmon Farmers Association executive director Mary Ellen Walling.
Started on Aug. 25, the aquaculture hearings at the Cohen Commission finished yesterday. Walling attended and said she is fairly confident Justice Cohen will not salmon farms responsible for the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye.
“If he’s basing his recommendations on, and listening to the testimony that I’m hearing, then no he would have no reason to draw that conclusion, because when you go through those independent reports by the technical specialists you don’t see it.”
The reports she referred to contain fish health data collected by salmon farms since 2002, and studied by provincial fish health veterinarians. The veterinarians also collected their own data to compare.
During the aquaculture hearings independent experts analyzed the data and according to Walling, said they found the quantity and quality of the data “impressive,” and did not link salmon farms to the decline.
Dr. Josh Korman, of Ecometric Research Inc. wrote a report outlining his conclusions, where he pointed out that during the low return year in 2009 and the high return year of 2010, salmon farm disease related deaths remained fairly constant.
“Negative effects of salmon farms on returns of Fraser River sockeye between 2002 and 2010 were not apparent based on a qualitative comparison with salmon farming data provided in this report,” wrote Korman.
“Fraser River sockeye returns show a declining trend over this period, with exceptionally low and high returns in 2009 and 2010, respectively,” he added.
“The number of mortalities on salmon farms potentially caused by disease has remained relatively constant over this same period.”
However, Alexandra Morton, executive director of Raincoast Research Society disagrees, saying the independent experts were not trained to read the raw data, and that the data left out a specific disease that she believes is causing sockeye salmon to decline; the disease is called marine anemia.
Dr. Mark Sheppard, lead veterinarian, for Aquaculture Environmental Operations, DFO, originally analyzed the data and did not classify fish as having marine anemia, because he doesn’t believe the disease exists, according to Morton.
“If you look at the data base they have the disease, I mean that’s what the data base says to me, but they deny it exists even though the vet has reported the symptoms of marine anemia 587 times,” said Morton, adding that the symptoms of the disease were reported, but the disease was not actually diagnosed by Sheppard.
Morton wants Dr. Kristi Miller, who testified that she found marine anemia in wild salmon stocks, to be granted access to test farmed fish in time to prepare a report before Cohen writes his report.
Walling said that the raw data needs to be read by a trained fish health expert or veterinarian or else false conclusions could be drawn.
If “you’re not a fish health veterinarian looking at the data you can cherry pick through the data and speculate about what the results contain,” said Walling.
Morton also said that 60 per cent of salmon farm fish that die are not diagnosed, meaning the cause of death is unknown.
According to Walling, the survival rate of farmed fish is around 95 to 96 per cent, while wild fish returns are between three and seven per cent.
The Cohen Commission will continue on, starting the hearings for hydro, water, and temperature on Sept. 15. A number of possible impacts have already been heard, including numerous environmental factors.
Cohen’s final report is due on June 30 2012.