The report of the Cohen Commission, which invested the decline of sockey salmon in the Fraser River, released its report to the public today. The $25 million inquiry reviewed 3 million pages of evidence and 179 witnesses over the course of 2 years.
The salmon decline caused significant concern in B.C. because fisheries were closed for several years, despite favourable pre-season estimates. In 2009 only 1.4 million of an expected 10 million salmon returned to spawn.
The report was unable to identify any single cause for the decline, noting that the situation was complicated:
Some, I suspect, hoped that our work would find the “smoking gun” – a single cause that explained the two-decade decline in productivity. The idea that a single event or stressor is responsible for the 1992–2009 decline in Fraser River sockeye is appealing but improbable. Throughout the hearings
I heard that sockeye experience multiple stressors that may affect their health and their habitats and that can cause death at various stages of their life. Several witnesses emphasized the importance of considering the cumulative effects of these stressors rather than stressors in isolation…
It is not, in my view, a matter of choosing one potential cause over another. The available evidence shows that stressors specific to the Fraser River (such as development along the river or contaminants in the water), as well as region-wide influences (such as marine conditions in the Strait of Georgia, Queen Charlotte Sound, or North Pacific Ocean), may have contributed to the long-term decline in productivity. Factors in the marine environment appear particularly implicated in the broad-based regional decline of salmon stocks. Regrettably, that is as far as the evidence takes me.
The report does provide 75 recommendations, including a freeze on net-pen salmon farms operating in the Discovery Islands until 2020.