Federal government action to deal with recommendations and commitments made in the Cohen Commission report into the decline of Fraser River salmon

Petition: 353

Issue(s): Fisheries, governance

Petitioner(s): Dennis Reid

Date Received: 12 November 2013

Status: Completed

Summary: The petitioner is concerned about the lack of response from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to recommendations made by the Cohen Commission. The Commission studied the decline in sockeye salmon in the Fraser River in British Columbia and issued its final report in October 2012. The petitioner asks Fisheries and Oceans Canada to describe its actions and results in response to the 75 recommendations presented by the Commission.

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Fisheries and Oceans Canada


Environmental Petition

Contact information:

DC (Dennis) Reid, [personal information withheld at the petitioner’s request] Victoria, BC, V8R 4W4; 250-592-1700; dcreid@islandnet.com.

I hereby submit this petition to the Auditor General of Canada under section 22 of the Auditor General Act.

Signature of petitioner: [Original signed by Dennis Reid]

Date: October 31, 2013

Title of Petition: DFO Response to the Cohen Commission Report into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye, BC.

Background Information:

The Government of Canada spent $26.4 Million on, supplied 500,000 documents to and 3.3 million pages of text were reviewed by the Cohen Commission which then wrote and submitted an unprecedented 1,200 page document with 75 recommendations of scheduled times, funding and resources required to bring back Fraser River Sockeye in BC. After a year of no response from DFO, I wrote the following article on the Cohen Commission Report for the Times Colonist Newspaper, BC on October 16, 2013:

Cohen Commission One Year Later

You may have thought the Cohen report was a stone dropped through DFO leaving not a ripple. You’d be right. Google DFO Cohen Commission and what you find is everyone else in the country commenting loudly but nothing from DFO. Go directly to DFO and search, and the result is virtually the same. Page after page of nothing about the Commission – a year of silence so far.

At the time, DFO swamped the Commission with 500,000 documents. But after Cohen completed the intended sessions, the first result for the Atlantic Ocean fish farm disease ISA was demonstrated in two wild sockeye fry from Owikeno Lake, Rivers Inlet. Then one contentious document DFO failed to give Cohen was leaked: a study showing ISA in dozens of wild BC salmon, co-authored by Molly Kibenge, then with DFO in Nanaimo.

Cohen reopened the hearings and the full extent of fish farm diseases cascaded out. The science experts K. Miller, F. Kibenge and A. Nylund were interviewed. Miller’s work noted literally hundreds of thousands of fish with ISA and HSMI in Clayoquot Sound farmed chinook and SLV phenotype ‘viral signature’ back to 1988 in Fraser sockeye. Today there are only 501 wild chinook in Clayoquot and up to 90% of some Fraser sockeye subcomponents die of pre-spawn mortality.

With this knowledge in hand, the focus of the most important recommendations in the 1,200 page tome – 75 in total, pages 105 – 115, Volume 3 – came to centre on constraining and removing Discovery Island fish farms near Campbell River, and for DFO to relinquish its conflicting role of supporting fish farms and put its full effort into implementing the 2005 Wild Salmon Policy, and the 1986 Habitat Policy. The report says there should be a new western director general charged with bringing back Fraser sockeye: http://www.cohencommission.ca/en/pdf/FinalReport/

Since then, the CFIA started a perfunctory job of looking at a few thousand fish, and saying it could not find ISA – this after Cohen testimony discredited its lab as not being able to find ISA. And DFO? It’s moved on to aquaculture. The performance measure, wait for it, is: A transparent regulatory regime for aquaculture in British Columbia and an Integrated Management Plan for finfish, and shellfish, by March 2014.

And the latest Norwegian related fish disease has just been shown to be present in BC wild salmon – PRV in Virology Journal, 2013. This may be worse than ISA, as it is the virus associated with heart and skeletal muscle inflammation – HSMI, developed circa 1999 in Norway. This is what those yellow pink salmon and the dying pre-spawn Fraser chum and sockeye are now being shown to have. Sadly, a large pre-spawn sockeye die-off occurred for the first time in the Skeena River in the past couple of months.

You can support the cost of testing all these fish, as hundreds of BC citizens, including me, are doing, on Alex Morton`s blog. She has this to say: “The Commission changed my life, I am tracking three European viruses, publishing on them in top scientific journals and informing the scientific community. Government is increasingly lagging behind and irrelevant to the science on salmon.”

I understand that Miller and B. Riddell (CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation), good smart people, will be co-authoring a report on fish farm/wild diseases. Unfortunately, for them and us, fish farms, DFO, and CFIA will be parsing the news releases.

Further Background:

The Cohen Commission changed most everything about fish farms in BC as it was the rare occasion that recorded evidentiary evidence that no one, not DFO, not CFIA, not the BC testing system, nor the myriad conflicts of interest they and scientists have with fish farms, can disavow. There is only one future for the environmentally damaging and technologically-dated fish farms – to get out of the water and move to closed-containment recirculating systems on land. If they don’t like it they can go back to Norway because the costs of this industry far out strip the revenue and employment produced.

Fish Farms impede sustainable development. My rough calculations show that only the one cost of sewage treatment for these farms exceeds a staggering $11 Billion – and that is only one cost the BC public shoulders – against a total revenue of $469 Million and a tiny $61.9 Million in Gross Provincial Product (BC Stats Report URL below). The sustainable development is in the other three fishing sectors. In addition, there is the value for eco-tourism lost through killing of wild salmon. Not to mention the animals, though I am not aware what the value of a dead grizzly bear, or eagle is, for instance. For sea lions it is $1,538 each. The figure can be calculated from the $100,000 fine that Skuna Bay fish farm had to pay for drowning 65 sea lions in its nets. Up to 2011, fish farms have killed an estimated 11,469 sea lions and other pinnipeds in BC.

Eliminating fish farms from BCs Pacific Ocean, will increase the other three fishing sectors, the commercial sector being the one that has taken the largest hit from fish farms by their reducing local fish stocks by 50%. (3). This could result in a doubling of commercial sector employment and revenue. Note: fish farm jobs are not new jobs. They represent eliminated jobs suffered by the other three fishing sectors, particularly commercial and processing.

The Aquaculture sector (much broader than simply fish farms) comprises only 9.3% of BC Gross Provincial Product attributable to the four fishing sectors. The other three sectors comprise 90.7%. The actual fish farm employment stats for 2011 was a very low 840 actual jobs (they mistakenly released them, and I gathered up the figures and references and they are maintained on my files). Commercial sector jobs lost are 1,400 alone, when 50% loss of wild salmon stocks are accounted for. Then there are losses in the processing sector and sport sector.

DFO paid BC Stats to come up with the current figures on the fishing sectors: http://www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca/StatisticsBySubject/BusinessIndustry/
, but then failed to take them into account and have not reported any relationship, other than its name being on the cover. Why? Because the real BC Stats fish farm figures are way lower than the ones from industry and DFO. For example, the fish farm number for employment and revenue is: 6,000 jobs and $800 million revenue. As calculated above, any industry employment number can be divided by 7.3 to arrive at the actual number of jobs; and revenue figures by 2.

Also note that fish farm employment drops over time as they introduce lights and feeding machines so workers are not required. There is also the added, as yet unvalued loss, of herring and salmonid stocks that are attracted into fish farm nets at nights under the lights. They get eaten; they get diseases and die.

Fish farms eliminate sustainable development in the BC coastal region and need to be removed from the ocean as the disease hearings portion of the Cohen Commission made clear.

After Morton vs DFO, Judge Christopher Hinkson concluded in his February 2009 ruling that BC fish farms fall under federal jurisdiction. The province of BC retains only site licences, which it can revoke in 60 days. The Cohen Report is the most important environmental document regarding the outcomes for wild BC salmon for more than two decades since the Pearse report.

Petition questions and/or requests:

Dear DFO Minister Gail Shea:

  1. It is one year since the $26.4 Million Cohen Commission on Decline of Fraser River Sockeye delivered its report to DFO. One year later, I would like to know: What concrete results, and detail them individually, with associated timelines and funding that DFO has committed or expensed to resolve each of the 75 environmental recommendations in the three volume Cohen Report on the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye: http://www.cohencommission.ca/en/FinalReport/. The recommendations are pages 105 – 115, of Volume 3. I am speaking of the boldfaced recommendations and the concrete results DFO has taken to achieve each of the 75 recommendations that can also be found in a Cohen PDF of Chapter 2, Volume Three.

Thank you

DC (Dennis) Reid
[Personal information withheld at the petitioner’s request]
Victoria, BC V8R 4W4

  1. References for the Times Colonist article:

DFO’s aquaculture initiative: The British Columbia Aquaculture Program: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/rpp/2013-14/SO1/so-rs-1.3.2-eng.html

Alex M`s blog: http://alexandramorton.typepad.com/alexandra_morton/2013/10/tracking-viruses-2013.html.

Three volume Cohen report: http://www.cohencommission.ca/en/FinalReport/.

DFO regarding BC Aquaculture: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/rpp/2013-14/SO1/so-rs-1.3.2-eng.html. Sub-program 1.3.2 - British Columbia Aquaculture Program

Performance Measure. By March 2014: A transparent regulatory regime for aquaculture in British Columbia and an Integrated Management Plan for finfish, and shellfish.

The PRV paper: http://www.virologyj.com/content/10/1/230

Whole-genome analysis of piscine reovirus (PRV) shows PRV represents a new genus in family Reoviridae and its genome segment S1 sequences group it into two separate sub-genotypes

Molly JT Kibenge1†, Tokinori Iwamoto1†, Yingwei Wang2, Alexandra Morton3, Marcos G Godoy456 and Frederick SB Kibenge1*

Miller Summary on Watershed Watch: http://www.watershed-watch.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Exh-1523-CAN006145.pdf

  1. Reference for BC Stats Report: BC Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector, 2012 Edition

Fish, Processing, Sport Fishing and Aquaculture Stats - Figures in Millions (and 2002 constant dollars, except for 2011 Revenue)






Contribution to GDP, and %

$102.3 (15.3%)

$177.5 (26.6)

$325.7 (48.8%)

$61.9 (9.3%)





(% of total)

1,400 (10.1%)

2,400 (17.3%)

8,400 (60.4%)

1,700 (12.2%)


Wages and Salaries
% of Total






Total 2011 Revenue (increase/decrease)

$344.8 (+4.1%)

$427.5 (+2.1%)

$936.5 (+0.8%)



Revenue % of Total






*Do note that Commercial employment and income is some $70 million higher than included in this table at $8.4 M because most fishermen are self-employed and technically this renders them not employees.

  1. Reference for fish farms reduce local wild fish stocks by 50%:


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Minister's Response: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

26 March 2014

Dennis Reid
[personal information withheld at the petitioner’s request]
Victoria, British Columbia

Dear Mr. Reid:

I am pleased to provide you with Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) response to your Environmental Petition No. 0353 received by the Department on November 26, 2013, concerning DFO’s response to the Cohen Commission Report into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye, British Columbia.

I appreciate being made aware of your concerns in this petition. DFO is providing you with the response to your question.

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your petition and trust that you will find this information helpful.

Yours sincerely,

[Original signed by Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans]

Gail Shea

Attachment: Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s response to Petition 0353

cc: Neil Maxwell, Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development


The following responses are provided to address the questions and/or requests related to Environment Petition No. 0353.


Related to Recommendations 1, 2, and 3

The roles and responsibilities of the Minister and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to decisions related to fisheries management and fish habitat within federal jurisdiction are clearly communicated to First Nations, other governments and stakeholders. This includes making conservation the first priority in the delivery of regulatory responsibilities.


Related to Recommendations 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10

The implementation of the Wild Salmon Policy remains a priority for Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Significant progress has been made towards implementation of the Wild Salmon Policy including the development of science-based methodologies to assess the status of salmon conservation units, their habitat and ecosystems as well as multi-stakeholder processes to undertake strategic plans for salmon conservation. As noted in the Policy, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will continue to implement the policy incrementally and within existing resources. The Department is also developing a new implementation plan for the Wild Salmon Policy which is aligned with Cohen Commission recommendations.

Some examples of work to implement the policy include development of habitat indicators, and preparation of habitat status reports in support of Departmental assessments of high priority conservation unit groupings. Additionally, work on status and benchmarks continues including the completion of the report on Integrated biological status of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) under the Wild Salmon Policy which is available at http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/Publications/SAR-AS/2012/2012_056-eng.html


Related to Recommendations 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20

With respect to salmon farming, the Canadian aquaculture industry already operates under some of the strictest regulations in the world in order to minimize risks to the environment. As part of that commitment, the 2013 Economic Action Plan contributed $57.5 million over five years to bolster environmental protection in the aquaculture sector through science, development of an enhanced regulatory regime and improved reporting.

In the Discovery Islands, the Department has postponed decisions on applications to amend existing marine finfish aquaculture licences that would result in an increase in licensed production and on applications for new marine finfish aquaculture licences within that area for the foreseeable future. During this time, additional scientific research will be conducted and a disease risk assessment process will be completed. In the interim, licence holders are required to submit fish health data to the Department which is posted on the DFO website.


Related to Recommendations 21, 22, 23, and 24

Enhancement facilities operate within established protocols and standard operating procedures to assure good fish health management. To support these initiatives, research is conducted within DFO and also through cooperation in international organizations such as the North Pacific Anadromous Fisheries Commission to better understand interactions between hatchery raised and wild salmon.

All DFO major hatcheries and community volunteer hatcheries are licenced under the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations (PAR), which provides authority to attach conditions of license, including reporting and record keeping requirements. Compliance is monitored through a risk based approach designed to minimize potential impacts of enhanced fish on wild salmon as part of ongoing program management.


Related to Recommendations 25, 26, 28, 30, 31, and 38

In response to consultations with stakeholders and First Nations, the Department has made progress in more clearly documenting the basis for fishery decision guidelines in the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan that is approved by the Minister. The Integrated Fisheries Management Planning process is also an important vehicle to ensure the views of participants in the fishery are taken into account by the Department.

Additionally, the Department is continuing to work with First Nations and stakeholders on important initiatives such as the Commercial Salmon Allocation Framework, catch validation and catch monitoring, selective and demonstration fisheries aimed at sustainable management of salmon populations.

To support test fisheries in the Fraser River, there is a new provision in the Fisheries Act that allows for the use of fish to fund science and management activities. In 2013, the Department entered into a collaborative agreement with the Pacific Salmon Commission to deliver Fraser River sockeye test fisheries; similar plans are being made for 2014.


Related to Recommendations 27, 29, 30, 32, 33, 34, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, and 73

DFO invests significant resources in salmon related science which is used to inform fisheries management and regulatory decision making. Some areas of work include data collection on temperature and flow in-river, stock assessment data, post-release survival rates for several fisheries, studies on health status, distribution and migration patterns, impacts of birds and pathogens on marine survival of Fraser River sockeye, fish health, and cumulative effects stressors. DFO has a number of publications related to this research and plans a number of additional publications for 2014. Information on DFO scientific publications and peer-review processes can be found at (http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/) and WAVES (http://waves-vagues.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/waves-vagues/).

DFO also works with others such as thePacific Salmon Commission on issues of common interest such as hosting an expert panel workshop in June 2010 that reviewed the stressors affecting Fraser River salmon. DFO also works with other international bodies such as the North Anadromous Fisheries Commission on collaborative research related to salmon.


Related to Recommendations 58, 60, 61, and 62

Compliance and enforcement activities are important elements as part of a functioning fisheries management system. To this end, the department has invested in ongoing efforts, using a risk based approach, to patrol areas including the Fraser River to deter illegal fishing activities. Through the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative, DFO has continued to fund its enforcement program to similar levels that were achieved in response to the 2004 Southern Salmon Fishery Post Season Review.

Through the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy, DFO provides Aboriginal groups support for the Aboriginal Fishery Guardian program which provides First Nations an opportunity to participate in monitoring and enforcement activities related to their food, social and ceremonial fisheries.


Related to Recommendations 31, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, and 63

DFO is investing effort in building relationships with First Nations and supporting fisheries opportunities for commercial as well as food, social and ceremonial purposes throughout the Pacific Region. This work is supported by a variety of programs and treaty related measures to increase capacity in areas such as catch monitoring, stock assessment and fisheries management.

Additionally, the 2013 and 2014 Federal Budgets invested $66 million to help increase the participation of First Nations fishing enterprises in integrated commercial fisheries and to improve fisheries management for all participants in the Pacific Region based on managing existing commercial and Aboriginal economic fisheries under common and transparent rules. The Department continues to assess the economic viability and feasibility of in-river commercial fisheries and to authorize demonstration fisheries on an annual basis consistent with the scale of relinquishments from the commercial fishery.


Related to Recommendations 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 and 72

Recent amendments to the Fisheries Act, brought into effect a prohibition against causing serious harm to fish that are part of or support a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery. To support these changes, the Fisheries Protection Policy Statement, was introduced in November 2013. The goal of the Department in apply the Policy Statement is to provide for the sustainability and ongoing productivity of commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries. To meet the objectives of the Policy Statement, the Department will be guided by a number of principles, including consideration of the ecosystem context, including cumulative effects.

As part of implementing the Fisheries Protection Program, DFO will continue to coordinate and work with the Province of British Columbia on a variety of areas of common interest (including, but not limited to forestry sector activities, and with regard to the British Columbia Water Act and Riparian Areas Regulation).

Budget 2013 made an initial investment in the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnerships Program of $10 million over two years to support habitat and conservation activities through partnerships with community groups. Further funding of $15 million was provided in Budget 2014 to support additional conservation projects in communities across the country. DFO has also announced the total value of the Conservation Stamp, estimated to be up to $1.3 million annually, will be provided to the Pacific Salmon Foundation for salmon related work related to restoration and protection of habitat.


Related to Recommendations 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 74

DFO and Environment Canada are working to finalize arrangements with respect to management of Section 36 and the related pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act. Thisis expected to be completed in the near future. In the interim, DFO will continue to support the Regional Environmental Emergency Team, led by Environment Canada, when relevant to DFO’s mandate or when DFO’s expertise is required.

Advice on contaminants from DFO is now delivered by the National Contaminants Advisory Group through the Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science.

Research initiated in 2011 with support from DFO’s National Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program is developing a foundation of information regarding impacts of climate change on sustainable management of fisheries including the development of adaptive approaches to respond to and or mitigate the effects of climate change.


Related to Recommendation 75

This recommendation is not directed to DFO.