Justice Bruce Cohen's report advises to analyse the relation between fish farms and low runs. (Photo:Stock file)
Salmon farming sector calls Cohen report 'balanced'
Saturday, November 03, 2012, 03:30 (GMT + 9)
The salmon farming industry largely welcomed the Cohen Commission report released this week on the reasons behind the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon run. The report advises exploring the link between fish farms and low runs.
Clare Backman of Marine Harvest, speaking for the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA), said this week that the groups support former BC Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen's recommendation that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) run more thorough studies, especially at fish farms situated around the Discovery Islands -- one of the province’s original salmon farming locations and a primary migration route for sockeye.
There are currently nine active Atlantic salmon farms operating there out of a total of 30, most of which are “dormant,” Backman said, The Vancouver Sun reports.
In the 1,200-page report, Cohen suggested that regional farms "have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to exacerbate endemic diseases which can have a negative effect on Fraser River sockeye."
He argued that the species could suffer "serious or irreversible harm" if exposed to disease and that the federal government must acknowledge the possible risk of disease transmission between farms and wild stocks.
Cohen thus recommends that the DFO embark on a decisive study of the risks to wild salmon from the fish farms on Discovery Islands, with conclusive results published by 2020, as well as an annual cap on salmon farming production.
If by 2020 the DFO "cannot confidently say the risk of serious harm is minimal," then salmon farms in the area should be closed down, Cohen said – or sooner, if research confirms a link.
Making all farm fish health assessments available for public scrutiny and independent research is one key to an analysis of the risks, and Backman noted the assessment data suggested by Cohen has been available since 2010.
"They're collecting a variety of information. It used to go into the provincial databases and then they would provide a summary report that was always a year late. Now the DFO puts it up on the website within the quarter. So now, within three months you've got predator interaction, any escape issues, the sea lice info, any incidental bycatch in the cages,” he said.
But he said closing farms would be an "alarming" precedent.
David Suzuki Foundation marine biologist John Werring said his organization and others in the Canadian Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CARR) believe the most prudent measure would be to remove all 30-odd farms along the migratory sockeye route.
"It's a biological pinch point," Werring said. "Even industry acknowledges that there's a zone of influence of farms in regards to pathogen and parasite dispersal.”
- Risky salmon farms must be shut down: report
By Natalia Real