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Gains of local groups at risk
Many locals celebrate the return of orcas and herring to Howe Sound and advocacy groups work hard to improve salmon stocks, says Dave Brown, vice chair of the Squamish to Lillooet Sportfish Advisory Committee, but he believes that the government’s lack of response to recommendations of the Cohen Commission can put those gains in jeopardy.
Brown recently participated in a Sea to Sky Fisheries Roundtable together with John Weston, M.P. West Vancouver, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky Country, and Tim Pardee and Mike von Zuben of the Bowen Island Fish and Wildlife Club (BIFWC). Tim Pardee, president of the BIFWC, said that the consensus around the table was that the report of the Cohen Commission should be taken seriously.
Brown explained that he originally approached Weston several years ago to share concerns. “The idea was that John [Weston] would listen and take the message back to Ottawa,” Brown said, adding that the Sea to Sky Roundtable had a high level of success in certain areas, for instance with habitat rehabilitation projects as well as having opportunities to testify at the Fisheries Standing Committee.
“We are now asking the M.P. to enquire why the government hasn’t acted on the Cohen Commission’s recommendations,” Brown said.
In an open letter to Weston, Brown states,
“The Sea to Sky Fisheries Roundtable greatly appreciates the dialogue we’ve had with you over the last several years, especially your work in facilitating the 2009 announcement of the Inquiry into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye. We watched intently as Justice Bruce Cohen led the investigation that produced 33 expert, policy and practice reports, compelled over 180 witnesses to take the stand, and resulted in more than 14,000 pages of testimony transcripts. In the end, the $26 million dollar inquiry culminated on October 31, 2012, when Cohen released his final synthesis report and recommendations to government.” Brown said that he welcomed Cohen’s comprehensive and thoughtful recommendations and hoped that many, if not all, of the recommendations would be implemented in a timely manner.
“It’s been almost year since the report was released. Initially, the parliamentary secretary said that the report is being taken very seriously,” Brown said.
“Unfortunately, this is the last Canadians have heard from government on this crucial investigation funded at their expense, that ultimately made recommendations on how to protect and sustain sockeye salmon for future generations. This is unacceptable, especially when significant salmon fishery closures have occurred on the Fraser River once again this year, along with predictions of high in-river mortality of migrating sockeye. Action needs to occur to ensure the management of Fraser sockeye and other salmon is improved via implementation of the Cohen Inquiry recommendations, which were so thoroughly researched,” Brown’s letter states.
Brown said that local activists are interested in learning who in Ottawa is responsible for reviewing the report and what are the details of the report review process in Ottawa to date and the timeline for a response to participants of the inquiry and the general public.
Pardee said that the BIFC supports marine life and salmon conservation efforts, especially as they impact Howe Sound and Bowen Island. The club had a successful year, releasing almost 250,000 chum and coho fry. “This fall and next spring will be even busier because, for the first time, we’ll be incubating, feeding and releasing pink salmon fry along with chum and coho,” he said. “The Terminal Creek Salmon Hatchery in Crippen Park will be an active place and we’ll continue to involve the local schools and the Bowen community in our salmon enhancement work whenever possible. I estimate that over 300,000 salmon fry will be released in 2014.”
Pardee explained that the BIFWC also monitors Bowen Island waterways. Three new volunteers have just completed the Pacific Streamkeeping Federation course, creating more opportunities to record and track the health of Bowen’s creeks. “Salmon depend on healthy fresh water creeks to spawn,” he said. “Our volunteers work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and the Bowen Island Municipality to rehabilitate Bowen streams that have been impacted by development to make them accessible to salmon again.”
Pardee states that it is important that the volunteer hatchery, streamkeeping, and rehabilitation efforts on Bowen are supported by provincial and federal government policies to enhance wild salmon throughout all British Columbia coastal and inland waterways.
Brown believes that the many positive results of the efforts of local groups like the BIFWC are put at risk by the government’s lack of response to the Cohen report. “We’ve had a bad year [for Fraser River sockeye] in 2009, then another one in 2012, and in 2013 as well. The numbers are getting desperately low,” Brown said. “Are we going to wait until there is no sockeye in the Fraser?”