The Campbell River-based B.C. Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) is putting a brave face on the chilling findings of the Cohen Commission, while environmentalists celebrate what they see as a significant blow to fish farming in the area of the Discovery Islands.
BCSFA board member Clare Backman told the Mirror Thursday the association “does not see the report as investment chilling.”
“There is a big difference between what we read and what the commentators are saying,” he said. “There is no science of fish farm harm, but there is a lot of evidence of public concern. We see this as an opportunity to work with the federal government, the regulators and the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to satisfy those concerns.
“Our members are committed to farming responsibly and that commitment will continue as we move forward in light of these recommendations,” Backman added. “It’s important that we continue with the important social and economic role we play in the coastal communities of B.C. while protecting our natural environment.”
Another BCSFA board member, Stewart Hawthorn, said: “We know that the fish on our farms are healthy and Justice Bruce Cohen has acknowledged the impressive data we made available. We are committed to protecting the marine environment and our iconic wild salmon and we support the call for further research in this small farming area.”
But the recommendations in the final report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of the Fraser River Sockeye go way beyond a call for more research. Former B.C. Supreme Court Justice Cohen has called for a freeze on new salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.
Even though celebrity biologist Alexandra Morton described her testimony before the commission more than a year ago as “a depressing experience,” it appears that Justice Cohen agreed with the position she espoused that precaution should trump evidence.
In a blog blast to her followers Thursday, she shared the “good news” and “incredibly strong wording” in the report. She wrote: “The Cohen report (states that) salmon farms have the potential to import exotic viruses and amplify endemic ones. There should be an immediate freeze on farm salmon production on the Fraser sockeye migration route. DFO should be relieved of their duty to promote salmon farms.”
During the Cohen hearings more than a year ago, Morton maintained that “the pattern of the Fraser sockeye collapse…is so stark I do not know how anyone could avoid applying the precautionary principle to this situation immediately. Only the sockeye that closely passed salmon farms collapsed.”
In her blog Morton warns: “The Province of B.C. is in the process of renewing many salmon farm leases. If B.C. offers this industry long term leases, Justice Cohen’s recommendations and our $26 million (commission budget) will be wasted.”
Campbell River Mayor Walter Jakeway is not amused. “You don’t learn anything from a moratorium,” he told the Mirror. “It is not the answer. Salmon farming is a huge part of our economic base. We need to let the industry grow and if there are problems solve them.”
The Campbell River Chamber of Commerce was taking a more cautious approach. President Colleen Evans said: “This is such an important sector. We need to better understand the implications of the report. It’s all about finding a balance.”
B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said the government will review Cohen’s report closely. He said the province wants to ensure there is a healthy sockeye salmon run and to play whatever role it can “to make that happen.” But NDP environment critic Rob Fleming called the report a “very clear rejection” of the Harper Conservatives’ approach to gut the scientific and research capacity of fisheries management on the coast.” Conservative Party leader John Cummins dismissed the Cohen report as a “complete and utter waste” of taxpayer dollars.