After 138 days of hearings, 179 witnesses, and a review of over 3 million pages of documents, the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River submitted its final report on October 29th 2012. The government tabled the report in the House of Commons on October 31st.
The report contains 75 recommendations, many directed at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and clearly states that one of the Department’s primary mandates is to conserve wild fish by implementing the Wild Salmon Policy and its own Fish Habitat Management Program.
Nic Humpreys, Union of Environment Workers Regional Vice-President for BC, representing many of the workers at DFO in the province, hopes the government will move quickly to implement many of the proposals contained within the report.
“But,” he says, “the changes to the Fisheries Act contained in Bill C-38, the planned changes to the Fish Habitat Program, and years of under-funding at DFO must also be addressed if the government wants to make a positive impact on the Fraser River salmon – and by extension the health of Canada’s entire wild fish stock.”
The report recommends that DFO be given more authority over conservation, fish habitat, and fisheries management and that DFO funding in the Fraser River area be restored to pre-2010 levels or increased in some cases.
“This is the exact opposite of what the Harper government is doing at the Department,” according to Humphreys, “DFO’s budget is being cut by $80 million nationally and over 80 positions have been lost in BC this year alone. Internal documents show that DFO plans to re-vamp and re-name the Fish Habitat Management Program, resulting in a loss of 30 positions.”
“I’m concerned that the responsibility for fish habitat protection and environmental oversight will be turned entirely over to industry when these changes are scheduled take effect in January 2013.” continues Humphreys, “By loosening regulatory requirements, the environmental assessments currently performed by staff at DFO will go from over 7000 per year to a few hundred, if that.”
“The report makes it clear that this is not what Commissioner Cohen wants, and not what the public deserves. DFO must reconsider the decision to scrap the Habitat Program immediately.”
The Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Union of Environment Workers are calling on the Harper government to act quickly and decisively to carry out Hon. Cohen’s recommendations as well as reverse cuts and planned changes to DFO Fish Habitat Management Program.
After reviewing the report Humphreys says the government can begin to protect and enhance wild salmon stocks by implementing and institutionalizing these proposals in particular:
- That the Fisheries Minister make a commitment to wild fish by supporting and emphasizing DFO programs and policies that support the health and sustainability of wild fish stocks.
- That the government strengthens the monitoring component of DFO’s Fish Habitat Management Program and give staff the ability to require additional environmental protection measures when they deem necessary.
- That DFO create a detailed plan for implementation of the Wild Salmon Policy, and that the government provides dedicated and segregated funding sufficient to carry out the plan.
- That the government properly fund DFO enforcement activities on the Fraser River.
- That an independent body report back to Parliament and the public on the progress of properly implementing the Wild Salmon Policy as well as on the extent to which all the recommendations contained in the report are carried out.
“It’s unfortunate that it took the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run in 2009 to bring these issues to the public’s attention.” concludes Humphreys, “However, the Cohen Commission has worked hard and put a lot of thought into its report. The Hon. Cohen has given the government a clear and detailed roadmap towards the right track. For the sake of all Canadians, and our wild salmon, I hope the government follows that map.