Groups demand action on salmon decline

What appeared to be a Halloween treat a year ago now seems more like a trick, wild salmon conservation groups said on Wednesday.

A year after the Cohen inquiry into Fraser River sockeye declines tabled its recommendations, the Conservative government has failed to implement them, they said in a news conference in Vancouver.

"Really, they need to come up with an implementation plan with a timeline," said Craig Orr of the Salmon Watch Society, one of two groups behind the call for action.

MP Cathy McLeod said she would be releasing an update today on government measures stemming from the inquiry findings.

"These recommendations are really guiding our direction as we make new policy and take new measures," McLeod said.

Orr said his group invested and participated in the $26-million inquiry through two years of deliberations. They were buoyed by the 75 recommendations made by Justice Bruce Cohen.

"Being Halloween (at the time), it was one of the best treats for wild salmon. We're getting the tricks now - the government seems to be retreating from its own inquiry."

The groups are demanding a fully functional wild salmon policy. Along with Cohen, they feel the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is in conflict when it manages both wild stocks and salmon farming.

Darlene McBain, president of the Adams River Salmon Society, believes that also explains the inertia of both the federal and provincial governments when it comes to protecting wild stocks.

Researcher Alexandra Morton has attributed wild salmon declines to European salmon viruses spread by proliferation of Atlantic salmon farming along the Coast.

"It should be all levels of government that are concerned about this," McBain said. "I think part of the problem with the provincial government is they're very supportive of farmed salmon."

The world-famous Adams sockeye are among those seriously affected because the stock migrates north once leaving the Fraser River, swimming past salmon farms in Georgia and Johnstone straits, McBain said. Those farms were temporarily shut down in 2006, the same peak-year cycle that produced a phenomenal return to the river in 2010, she added, connecting the dots.

John Fraser, a federal fisheries minister in the Brian Mulroney Conservative government, took part in the call for action. He commended the Tories for setting up the inquiry but said they have left the public in the dark for the past year.

There is a close connection between inaction on Cohen's recommendations and Ottawa's revisions to the Fisheries Act a year earlier, Fraser suggested. Those changes weakened habitat protection, critics have said.

"Who talked them into it? Who exactly in the executive world . . . who went to Ottawa and said, 'If you don't gut the Fisheries Act, we won't be able to build pipelines.' And I'd like to know who listened to them."

The Harper government said the act was amended because it was often wielded over-zealously.

"It's all bunk," said Fraser, who added that Conservatives, by definition, should be conservationists.

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