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Laura Braden, PhD

The Watershed Watch Salmon Society has issued a complaint that Fisheries & Oceans Canada has failed to follow up the recommendations made by the Cohen Commission, although the BC salmon industry feels that such complaints are counter-productive.

In a letter sent to a local paper, the NGO accuses the DFO of not taking Justice Bruce Cohen’s call for science-based decision-making seriously, saying that the latest proposed guidelines for processing salmon farm applications “fail completely to consider the best available scientific and other information available”.

“Overall, we are very frustrated with DFO’s continual cycle of ‘consultation’ on aquaculture policy with no demonstration of genuine consideration of the feedback that is provided,” wrote Stan Proboszcz, science adviser to the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

“In our respective opinions, the opportunities for public involvement and accountability in government decision-making regarding aquaculture licensing are at an all-time low,” he stated on behalf of his group that also included David Suzuki Foundation, the Living Oceans Society, and the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

In the 2012 report, Justice Cohen said he couldn’t find a “smoking gun” linking fish farms or any other single issue to problems with the Fraser River sockeye fishery, but rather that is was likely a contribution of multiple factors such as pollution, climate change, and over-fishing.

But he did call on Ottawa to - by March of 2013 and every five years thereafter - “revise salmon farm siting criteria to reflect new scientific information about salmon farms situated on or near Fraser River sockeye salmon migration routes as well as the cumulative effects of these farms on these sockeye.”

The proposed guidelines, which would replace rules developed jointly with the BC government after a 1997 policy review, call for pens to be located in areas best-suited to ensure the health of both wild and farmed stocks, “while ensuring an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable industry.”

But the NGOs are not happy, stating that: “The word ‘science’ is largely left out of the equation and replaced with the word ‘information,’ yet no information is cited (and) no supporting references are provided”.

The executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, Jeremy Dunn, rejected the suggestion that science isn’t a major factor in regulatory approval of site selection.

“The amount of science, testing, monitoring, etc, that goes into siting a salmon farm is significant,” Dunn said.

And, further, this science is publicly available, produced by credible experts in their field, and put under rigorous peer review.

But it seems that the only party involved that takes part in the process are the farming companies themselves. Instead of positively contributing, NGO’s are notorious in BC for sitting on their hands, producing sensationalistic articles and documentaries, and refusing to hold themselves accountable for the constant barrage of mis-information. 

“These NGOs are complaining that they don't feel adequately consulted or considered in DFO's process, yet when directly consulted with farm site criteria policies they go straight to media with their complaints. They just complain about the process instead of being a part of the process like everyone else,” said one salmon farmer.

According to Dunn, the federal government has approved four sites this summer, two that will be joint ventures between the Tlatlasikwala First Nation and Marine Harvest Canada off North Vancouver Island, a project involving the Ahousaht First Nation and Cermaq Canada in Clayoquot Sound (the project currently sidelined by protestors), and one between Grieg Seafood and the Tlowitsis First Nation to grow salmon in Clio Channel on east Vancouver Island.

Dunn dismissed speculation that the industry is gearing up for an expansion, saying there are currently no new site applications before the federal government.

“None of the companies BCSFA represents have plans at the moment to apply for new farming sites,” he observed.