Four months after a $26-million report on Fraser River sockeye was tabled in the House of Commons, there’s not been a peep from Ottawa on any of its 75 recommendations, and that has public interest groups worried.
Three deadlines tied to Justice Bruce Cohen’s recommendations have passed with no meaningful response, and yet there is a sense of urgency over the future of the sockeye runs, said Stan Proboszcz, a biologist with the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
“We thought it was a blueprint for preserving sockeye salmon for future generations, and four months have passed and we haven’t heard a peep out of government about the recommendations despite the fact that some of the deadlines on recommendations have passed,” Proboszcz said.
Concerns were expressed when the report was tabled that it might only gather dust as sockeye stocks continue to decline.
Along with the SOS Marine Conservation Foundation, the society has posted a Cohen Report Card — at www.watershed-watch.org — to track the government’s response.
MP Cathy McLeod said in an email response that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is doing due diligence on the recommendations.
Cohen was unable to find a smoking gun to explain the decline of Fraser River sockeye, which is indicative of the complexity of the issue, McLeod noted.
“We will continue to work with stakeholders and partners, and review Justice Cohen’s recommendations very carefully,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is a sustainable and prosperous salmon fishery for years to come.”
The department’s official response to the question of action is much the same — a careful review is underway in co-operation with government partners.
“Some of those early recommendations, I’m not sure you have to analyze in detail Cohen’s entire report,” Proboszcz said.
The most pressing of those was appointment of an associate regional director responsible in October to begin implementing wild salmon policy. Another one, with immediate action recommended, called for restricting licences for salmon farms suspected of spreading disease to wild salmon.
Five more of Cohen’s deadlines lapse on March 31.
Sandy MacDonald, a Kamloops resident, chairs the local sport fish advisory board, a stakeholder group. Speaking personally, he said he, too, is anxiously awaiting action.
“I’m frustrated and waiting to see what they do with it,” said MacDonald, a retired provincial fisheries biologist. “We’re not hearing anything. We’re not seeing any changes brought out.”
He took it as a bad sign when the government brought down additional departmental cuts before Cohen could deliver his findings.
MacDonald wonders if cuts to Pacific Region staff have left the department unable to adequately monitor stocks and safeguard stream habitat.
Fishery officers used to walk streams on a regular basis as a routine check on habitat, he said. They don’t do that anymore, but extrapolate on the basis of “indicator streams.”
“I doubt we’re adequately sampling the number of fry going out the Fraser. There’s just not the staff.”