Cohen salmon inquiry ends amid strong passions – Fishfarmer Magazine

Cohen salmon inquiry ends amid strong passions13 September, 2011 –

IT has been one of the most intensely debated fishing investigations in Canada for years – and it has just finished.

But those who took part in the Cohen inquiry on fish farming and diseases and whether it caused the collapse of the sockeye salmon runs on the Fraser River in British Columbia will have to wait another 10 months for the verdict.

The inquiry has aroused strong passions on both sides of an argument that can be compared to the debate on fox hunting in Britain a few years ago – with many claims and counter claims from fishery scientists.

Some 54 local, provincial and national organisations in Canada have signed the wild salmon narrows declaration calling for the removal of open net-cage salmon farms from the Wild Salmon Narrows in the northern Georgia Strait, British Columbia. These groups have been supported by many local people.

But the aquaculture industry has given as good as it received with strong scientific evidence to say that fish farms are not having an adverse effect on wild stocks. Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, said she was confident that Mr Justice Cohen would not find a link between wild salmon declines and farmed fish if he interprets the expert testimonies the same way as the association.

She added: “If he’s basing his recommendations on, and listening to the testimony that I’m hearing, then, no, he would have no reason to draw that conclusion, because when you go through those independent reports by the technical specialists you don’t see it.”

The most high profile campaigner against the salmon farms is Alexandra Morton of the Raincoast Research Society, who has managed to attract a large following in British Columbia and beyond.

But during the hearing she was accused of ethical breaches and pressed to give factual evidence on her claims that salmon farms and wild runs cannot live together, when a number of scientists said they could. She was accused of giving hearsay evidence.

However, despite tough questions, she gave a strong account of her claim. She maintained that salmon farms act as a reservoir that amplifies pre-existing parasites and diseases along the wild salmon migration route, which runs through narrow channels off north eastern Vancouver Island.

Mr Justice Cohen will deliver his final report by June 30th next year.