Commission Recognizes Danger of Salmon Farms to Wild Salmon

The report from the Cohen Inquiry into the dramatic decline of the Fraser River Sockeye in 2009 was finally released on October 31. The Inquiry took 2 ½ years, reviewed an enormous amount of material and produced an extensive document, citing a number of threats to the health and welfare of the Fraser Sockeye and made a number of excellent recommendations.

An entire section was devoted to the management and impact of open net salmon farming on the migrating Fraser River Sockeye. We were very pleased to see that the farms in the northern Georgia Strait were recognized as a particular threat to be addressed immediately.

After careful and lengthy consideration, Judge Cohen concluded that ‘the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon by salmon farms is serious or irreversible’ and recommended ‘no increase to net-pen salmon farm production in the Discovery Islands until Sept 30, 2020.

As we know, the vast majority of Fraser River Sockeye migrate through the narrow passageways of the Discovery Islands in the northern Georgia Strait on their way to the open ocean. Calling on the Canadian government to adhere to its commitment to the precautionary principle, Judge Cohen was clear that “Mitigation measures should not be delayed in the absence of scientific certainty.” His assessment was that it was the lack of transparent data that lead to a lack of certainty, rather than evidence that would exonerate the farms. He attributed this lack of data to DFO’s conflicting mandates to protect wild salmon as well as promote the aquaculture industry and its product. He recognized these as incompatible and recommended that the support of the industry be removed from the DFO mandate.

Although Judge Cohen did call for further research before the outright removal of the farms in this area, he clearly put the onus on proving minimal risk by Sept 30, 2020. At that point, if the risk has not been proven to be minimal, all open net pen salmon farms should be prohibited from operating in the Discovery Islands.

In light of Judge Cohen’s recognition of the danger posed by the 27 open net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, we call upon the federal government to act on this threat to the wild Fraser Rive sockeye and begin the removal of farms from the Discovery Island area now, beginning with the nine in the Wild Salmon Narrows. We feel the evidence is already extensive enough to prove the risk is too great.

Since the commission’s mandate was restricted to Fraser River Sockeye, we interpret the recommendations to indicate the threat of risk from open net pen farms to migrating wild salmon throughout the coast of BC and call on the federal government to remove the open net pen salmon farms and transition the industry to closed containment, thus removing the potential for ‘serious or irreversible harm’ to the precious wild salmon of BC.

To learn more about salmon aquaculture issues click here.

To read the CAAR press release click here.

To read the final report of the Cohen Commission click here.

Georgia Strait Alliance's mission is to protect and restore the marine environment and promote the sustainability of Salish Sea [Georgia Strait], its adjoining waters, and communities. Read other articles by Georgia Strait Alliance, or visit Georgia Strait Alliance's website.