Cohen Commission Final Oral Submissions, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011

Theme: Final Oral Submissions

Final Submissions:

Schedule: Monday, November 7, 2011
    Canada- Initial - Canada-Reply
    Province of BC
    BC Public Service Alliance of Canada
    Rio Tinto Alcan
    BC Salmon Farmers Association
    Aquaculture Coalition

News Coverage

Salmon farmers present final oral arguments at Cohen Commission
BCSFA, Monday November 7th, 2011

Lawyers for the BC Salmon Farmers Association are presenting their final oral arguments to the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the decline of Fraser River Sockeye today.

"This has been a long, in-depth process that has highlighted the complex questions around wild salmon survival," said Mary Ellen Walling, Executive Director of the BCSFA. "We hope it will assist British Columbians to have a better understanding of the seafood industry in their province."

The Commission of Inquiry into the decline of the Fraser River Sockeye salmon was established in November 2009. In April 2010, the BCSFA was granted participant status in the commission which included aquaculture within its extensive terms of references. Public hearings began in October 2010 to examine a number of topics including aquaculture, fish biology, urbanization, logging, hydro, changes in ocean currents and climate change.

In that time, the BCSFA has contributed thousands of documents to the commission and heard from many experts. The process has been a challenging one both in staff resources and financial costs for the association and its members.

"We agree that this is an important process and it was very important for us to present our information and knowledge before the commission," said Walling. "The evidence corrects much of the misinformation about our industry."

Last week, Justice Cohen announced hearings will be re-opened in December to review suspect findings of ISAv in British Columbia. Information about ISAv and the nearly 5000 farm samples that have tested negative for the virus has already been presented to the commission. The BCSFA is eager to see the CFIA's follow-up testing complete and released.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association represents farmers as well as those who provide supplies and services to the industry, which employs 6,000 people directly and indirectly and contributes $800-million to the provincial economy each year.

Salmon hearing participants clash openly in final submissions
mark hume, VANCOUVER—  Globe and Mail, Monday, Nov. 07, 2011

Participants in the Cohen Commission are clashing openly this week as they deliver final submissions and attempt to bolster their own cases while undermining their opponents.

Throughout the nearly two years of hearings, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen has heard the various groups (representing governments, commercial fishermen, the aquaculture industry, first nations and conservationists) advance their views through direct questioning and cross-examination of witnesses

But with the formal hearings set to wrap up Thursday, except for a two-day session next month to hear late-breaking evidence on a newly discovered disease, the parties are now dropping the legal niceties and going for direct assaults on one another.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, for example, has filed a final written argument that takes aim at its most fierce critic, the Aquaculture Coalition. The coalition represents two conservation organizations and Alexandra Morton, a controversial researcher who publicly attacks fish farming as a threat to wild salmon.

“The BCSFA says that the Aquaculture Coalition’s position that disease is the primary factor affecting Fraser River sockeye salmon and that ocean conditions may have played a role clearly illustrates their disregard for all evidence that does not accord, or in fact contradicts, their particular theory,” states the submission by Alan Blair, counsel for the B.C. Salmon Farmers.

He argued the group’s interpretation of evidence “is demonstrably unreliable,” and he described Ms. Morton as “misrepresenting the evidence before the Commission.”

Mr. Blair stated that “the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that salmon farming has not affected Fraser River sockeye salmon declines, and poses a minimal risk over all.”

In its final argument, however, the Aquaculture Coalition told Judge Cohen that the biggest threat to wild salmon is posed by fish farms.

The Cohen Commission was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to investigate the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River after stocks collapsed in 2009, when only about one million of an anticipated 10 million salmon returned.

“The submission of the Aquaculture Coalition is that the primary cause of the failure of the 2009 sockeye return was disease, and that salmon farms along the path of the migrating salmon played a significant role in the origin or amplification of that disease,” states the group.

“We should not be surprised. Wild salmon are in decline wherever there are salmon farms worldwide,” said the coalition’s submission.

The federal government argued that “biophysical changes in the marine environment” were the most likely cause of salmon declines, while the B.C. government urged Judge Cohen not to make recommendations regarding aboriginal rights and title with respect to fisheries, because the commission “is not the forum to rule on such issues.”

The Conservation Coalition, which represents several environmental groups, said the failure of science to answer “fundamental questions about the reasons for the decline of Fraser sockeye,” should not be a reason for inaction.

The coalition’s lawyers, Tim Leadem and Judah Harrison, told Judge Cohen that the conservation of the Fraser sockeye “must come first” in his recommendations.

They argued that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans wild-salmon policy, which has only partially been implemented, should be made fully operational as it provides the “blueprint for the conservation of wild salmon.”

The First Nations Coalition also endorsed the wild-salmon policy and called on Judge Cohen to push the federal government to shift more commercial fishing opportunities from offshore to rivers. Commercial fishing groups argued against such a move, however, questioning whether so-called “terminal” fisheries, which are mostly run by first nations, produce top value for salmon.

B.C. salmon inquiry asked to weigh fish farms' risks on migrating stocks
By: Keven Drews, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - The head of the inquiry into British Columbia's salmon fishery must decide whether salmon farms are incubators of disease that threaten wild stocks, or pose no threat to the environment and migrating species.

Opponents and proponents of B.C.'s fish-farming industry asked the commissioner hearing evidence into the collapse of the 2009 Fraser River sockeye run to weigh the two drastically different viewpoints during closing submissions Monday.

Commissioner Bruce Cohen heard testimony from 173 witnesses over 125 days and will soon write his report, which is due June 30, 2012.

Gregory McDade, legal counsel for the Aquaculture Coalition, a group of industry critics that includes biologist Alexandra Morton, said the high-density environment of B.C.'s salmon farms are incubators of disease, and that it's only a matter of time before a devastating pathogen emerges.

McDade said 30 of about 100 farms report fish-health events annually, and that some three million fish die each year from unexplained causes.

He urged that salmon farms be moved away from the migratory routes of wild stocks.

"The real issue here is proof versus risk," said McDade. "The risk here is real. Don't wait for 10 years until this is proven and we have no fish left."

But Alan Blair, counsel for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said experts have already told the commission that properly managed aquaculture sites can co-exist with the marine environment.

He said there was no significant relationship between salmon farms and the decline of the Fraser River run, contending that experts had ruled out the impacts of waste, escaped Atlantic salmon and sea lice.

Blair said critics have repeatedly raised concerns about sea lice, viruses and marine anemia, most recently infectious salmon anemia, with little success.

"Each one of these risks is brought breathlessly to the public in a sensational way and each one so far has been demonstrated to be something less than advertised," he said.

Final submissions will continue Tuesday, when the commission will hear from the Conservation Coalition, an organization representing seven environmental groups, as well as commercial fishermen.