The Privy Council is squelching discussions of research indicating the harmful impacts of salmon farms.
Fraser River sockeye salmon are what the Grand Banks used to be to Canada – a remarkably abundant source of food security. They are also vital to First Nations communities, and helped establish the B.C. economy – they feed most of the interior of B.C. with rich ocean nutrients, growing trees and feeding wildlife. They are a power cord carrying energy from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. However, beginning in about 1996, they began to behave strangely, entering the river too early when water temperatures were not good for them, and dying just before spawning, whether the water was warm or cool.
While the Fraser sockeye rallied for a surprising historic high return in 2010, the problem remains. Their behaviour has become unpredictable, and this suggests there is a new variable that is responsible for whether they live or die. The Cohen Inquiry was initiated to figure out what this variable is.
Read more about the return of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River here.
The Cohen Inquiry began in October 2010 to investigate why the Fraser sockeye have been in decline for the last 18 years. It invited groups to apply for participation status at the hearings, and each of the 19 accepted coalitions has a team of lawyers. The coalitions include the Government of Canada, the province of B.C., several First Nations groups, commercial fishing organizations, a Conservation Coalition, the B.C. Salmon Farmers, and the Aquaculture Coalition, which I am part of. Justice Bruce Cohen heads the process, and requested that information regarding the Fraser sockeye be entered into a database that only participants have access to. While it is a “public” inquiry, these documents do not become public until they are entered as exhibits. (Information regarding such exhibits is available under “Calendar and Transcripts” at www.CohenCommision.ca.)
My role in the inquiry is to ensure that Justice Cohen has all the materials needed to determine what role salmon farms on the Fraser sockeye migration route are having on the survival of the Fraser sockeye. Wild salmon have been found to go into exceptional decline near salmon farms worldwide.
David Suzuki weighs in on the future of B.C.’s wild salmon here.
The pattern of survival and decline of sockeye in and around the Fraser river is remarkable. Sockeye that originate from rivers on the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Columbia River, which directly enter the open Pacific, are doing very well. But within the Fraser River, stocks known to migrate north between Vancouver Island and the mainland have been in steep decline for 18 years. The Harrison sockeye observed migrating around the south end of Vancouver Island, however, have been increasing in number over the same time period. This tells scientists that the “zone of influence” on the decline is not the open ocean or the Fraser River, but most likely somewhere from the lower Fraser to the north end of Vancouver Island. This is precisely where the salmon farms are.
Salmon farms arrived in Canada in the 1980s. The trouble with salmon farms is that they break several natural laws, including: holding salmon stationary, preventing predators from culling the sick, and leaving millions of salmon in the ocean near the rivers, where all the wild salmon have entered the rivers and died. The wild-salmon life history breaks the cycle of disease, while the captive salmon give disease unprecedented opportunity to breed, mutate, and live near the rivers. Until now, it has been impossible to get detailed information on diseases in salmon farms, so no one has been able to accurately measure the impact on wild salmon.
Many people around the world have been unsuccessful in gaining access to pertinent fish-farm disease records, which is perhaps less surprising when we consider that the majority of farms worldwide are operated by the same group of companies. In response to this lack of transparency, last October, 100 people – myself included – got into canoes and paddled the lower Fraser River for seven days to arrive, with hundreds of others, at the opening of the Cohen Commission. We asked Justice Cohen to get the fish-farm disease records, and he did just that.
Recently, we heard the troubling news that the Privy Council has told a Canadian government fisheries scientist, Dr. Kristi Miller, not to speak about her research on the harmful impacts of salmon farms. Miller uses a powerful technique called genomic profiling to read the history of living cells, and from that she is seeing a pattern that strongly suggests the Fraser sockeye are dying of a cancer-causing virus. The Commission has already released an exhibit by Miller that explains the relationship.
The Aquaculture Coalition portion of the Cohen hearings begins on Aug. 22, when witnesses will begin testifying about the disease. Miller will be on the stand on Aug. 24, and I will be a witness on Sept. 7 and 8. After 24 years of trying to bring reason to the issue of wild and corporate salmon, I strongly feel that it will make a very big difference if members of the public attend these open hearings. I will be blogging about them daily, for those who are unable to attend themselves.
The Cohen Commission was initially structured in such a way that it would not aim to look for who is at fault for the demise of the Fraser sockeye. The lawyers representing the coalitions pushed for this to be modified so that the Commission can now recognize “fault” if it finds it. This is important because it is unlikely the Fraser sockeye are dying off of natural causes.
We need a strategy to save the bluefin tuna population, too. Read more here.
The Cohen Inquiry is a tool Canadians can use to save their salmon. The recent revelation that the Privy Council muzzled a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientist who had found evidence that a virus is causing millions of Fraser sockeye to die before spawning is a warning that we are on a similar path to the one that led to the destruction of the North Atlantic cod. The collapse of cod fisheries harmed the eastern Canadian economy, Canadian food security, and the natural world. In that instance, DFO muzzled its own scientist, who was reporting on why the cod populations were collapsing. We must avert a similar collapse of the sockeye salmon.
There is evidence that, in the past two years, the survival of the Fraser sockeye has taken a turn for the better. This will help us analyze what the dominant pressure on these fish is. What was turned on in 1996, and turned off in the last few years?
Photo courtesy of Reuters.