Cohen Commission


Justice Bruce Cohen to make final report on salmon inquiry

Monday, September 24,2012
Elena Edwards

This week a final report is expected from Justice Bruce Cohen that may seal the fate of wild Pacific Sockeye salmon in B.C. After over 10 months of hearing reports and testimony from expert witnesses and staff from the DFO, Ministry of the Environment, First Nations and NGO’s, Justice Cohen has had since Dec. 2011 to weigh through the vast evidence.

With 21 participants in the inquiry representing various groups and stakeholders, there will be no shortage of people interested in what Justice Cohen has to say in the final week of September 2012.

Originally expected to make his final report in June of 2012, it was postponed to September 30th, 2012 after evidence showed the presence of infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAv) to be in wild salmon stocks, thereby reopening the commission in December of 2011 for 3 additional days to examine potential impacts of ISAv on wild salmon. The additional 3 days only further exposed the extent to which the Canadian government has failed to protect wild salmon, right down to ignoring scientific evidence that clearly showed the threat of viruses introduced into Pacific waters.

The $25 million Inquiry into the Decline of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon (launched after 2009 saw the collapse of the Fraser River Sockeye salmon and the DFO off in their predicted return by 9 million salmon) was not a new concept. As wild salmon stocks have been in decline for over 20 years, other inquiries have come and gone that have led to no changes in the continued decline. When participants in the Cohen Commission were asked what they thought would be different about this inquiry, most responded that the matter of aquaculture being examined as a contributor to the decline was the most significant aspect to this particular commission.

One DFO witness noted embarrassment at being off in predictions of the salmon returns two years running, followed by the admission that they really have no idea what is going on with the salmon. From a failure to implement the Wild Salmon Policy to over $1 million in outstanding fines for habitat offences to the muzzling of scientists who could get to the bottom of the decline, to salmon farms placed on the migratory path of wild salmon, the pieces to solving this puzzle are hardly invisible. The question is, does the conviction to adequately address these pieces exist?

Since the final day of evidence submitted to the Cohen Commission in December there have been a number of occurrences that will further put the survival of the Fraser River Sockeye salmon and all wild fish at risk.

In March of this year Bill C-38 was passed amid much objection, leading to alterations of the Fisheries Act that will ultimately gut the protection of wild fish habitat. In the same month the Harper government gave over $4 million to the aquaculture industry to expand. Two months later saw the culling of well over half a million farmed salmon as the spread of the deadly IHN virus took hold, in spite of the industry’s repeated claims of “best husbandry practices”. Adding to these blows was the confirmed presence of lethal viruses ISAv and IHN in wild salmon stocks by independent labs, both of which are linked to salmon farming.

On the DFO website it is noted that the CFIA “may need to treat wild fish populations to control fish pathogens that may have been introduced into Canadian waters.” While both DFO Aquaculture Management and Policy Analyst for the CFIA have been contacted, both have yet to respond to the implications of such a statement.

DFO website aquacultureCFIA treating salmon Q4

If nothing else, the Cohen Commission succeeded in one thing; it has clearly shown that government has been compromising wild salmon to death and that the DFO is in place not to protect wild fish but to protect the economic proceeds derived from the fish and oceans. If wild salmon are to have a chance of surviving into the future they must be prioritized before open-net salmon farming, oil pipelines, and mass industrial practices that destroy salmon habitat. In short, wild salmon must come first.

If there is to be any justice for Fraser River Sockeye salmon, Justice Bruce Cohen’s report will need to include the recommendation that all open-net salmon farms be removed from the migratory paths of wild salmon immediately followed by the cessation of leasing out the sea floor to the industry. Beyond that, the protection of wild salmon and salmon habitat must be enforced first and foremost.

justice cohen in lillooet304763 4262020024066 739825752 n

Whether Justice Cohen’s recommendations will have any sway on the Harper government’s current agenda is unlikely, but we can only hope that his report will not cater to the very things that put wild salmon at risk.

salmon farms in jail

For more on the Cohen Commission Inquiry into the Decline of the Fraser River Sockeye salmon visit Wild Salmon First! Salmon Inquiry. Read additional blogs here, watch Wild Salmon First's submission to Justice Cohen here.




Cohen Commission

Inquiry Into the Decline of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon

In 2009 a collapse of the once world famous Fraser River Sockeye salmon run left First Nations communities and fishermen in shock.  After DFO predicted 10 million salmon to return, barely 1 million salmon returned. After over 20  years of the salmon runs declining when once they returned  by the  tens of millions, the unexpected disappearance was not taken lightly. 

salmon run on fr collapses

In response to the missing 9 million salmon, the federal government set in motion the Inquiry Into the Decline of the Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, appointing Justice Bruce Cohen to oversee the commission.

pm calls for inquiry

Set to cover all possible contributers to the decline of the Fraser River Sockeye salmon, the inquiry commenced in October of 2010 and was set to see its final day in court on September 28th of 2011 with the commissioner to make his final recommendations to the Harper government in June of 2012. That date has since been extended to Sept 30th, 2012 due to the extent of evidence to be weighed.  

From August 18th to October 21st 2010, the commission council traveled throughout B.C. for public forums in which people had ten minutes to submit their concerns and recommendations to the commission.

cheam beach cohen site visitkerry coast lillooet presentationfred speck campbell river public forumcohen rick quipp chilliwack

On October 25th, hundreds of people walked the streets of Vancouver to the courts where the Cohen Commission was to commence. Many of those people had just spent 5 days paddling down the Fraser River, uniting people along the way to demand that the health and disease records from the 120 salmon farms spread throughout the coastal waters be released for examination.

In July of 2010, the Aquaculture Coalition and the Conservation Coalition, 2 of the 21 participants in the commission, had put in a submission to the commission council that it request farmed salmon health records from the BC Salmon Farmers Association, the Province and Canada from 1980 to present time.

stan alex and mcdade

On Dec. 8th, 2010, Justice Cohen ruled  that the Aquaculture Health Records be produced for examination, in spite of resistance by the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

With the closing hearings for the inquiry thought to be over on November 10, 2011, the commission reopened for  three additional days  when  ISAv (Infectious Salmon Anemia virus) was found in salmon samples that were sent to independant labs by biologist Alexandra Morton. The positive test results opened yet another can of worms that led to an intense three days that heard shocking testimony revealing the extent to which the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is willing to go to hide the issue of the virus being present in B.C. salmon. Email exchanges between colleagues exposed the CFIA's focus to be more on the "PR war" rather than the presence of the dangerous virus found in the salmon.

Also exposed was the ammount of intimidation felt from the federal government by the scientist whose research uncovered the presence of infectious salmon anemia and salmon leukemia. 

Under cross examination by Nicole Schabus for the Cheam Indian Band, Dr. Kristi Miller, the scientist who made headlines after being muzzled by the Privy Council, said "Their [fish health experts] approach is to make sure it's not  there. My approach is to ask if there's any way that it is there."

On April 12th, 2012, the Aquaculture Coalition (comprised of Alexandra Morton represented by Gregory McDade), submitted an application for the Cohen Commission to reopen for examination of the very serious piscine reovirus (PRV) which is known to cause heart and skeletal muscle inflamation (HSMI). Numerous farmed salmon had tested positive for PRV, posing a serious threat to wild salmon stocks. On May 17th, 2012, Justice Cohen ruled to not reopen the commission, citing the ammount of work the commission council already faces and the already delayed date of submitting the final recommendations.

It is uncertain what recommendations Justice Cohen will make to the Prime Minister on September 30th, 2012, but even in the event that the recommendations are made to fully protect wild salmon from salmon farming and all practices affecting Fraser River Sockeye salmon, there is much skepticism that Stephen Harper will take the recommendations into account if they interfere with his current economic agenda which will heavily impact all aspects of salmon habitat and the environment.

From October 25th, 2010 to September 28th, 2011, the Cohen Commission examined the following topics;

- Fraser River Sockeye Life Cycle

Perspectives on the Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Framework Underlying the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon Fishery

Conservation, Sustainability and Stewardship

DFO's Organizational Structure (Some would say "Disorganizational" Structure)

Pacific Salmon Commission & Pacific Salmon Treaty

Wild Salmon Policy (and it's overall lack of implimentation)

Aboriginal Worldview, Cultural Context and Traditional Knowledge

Harvest Management

Commercial Fishing

Recreational Fishing

Advice to the Minister regarding Sockeye Returns in 2009

Examination on Scientific Reports - Project 9: Potential Climate Change Effects on Survival of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon

Examination on Scientific Reports - Project 3: Status of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon and the Role of Freshwater Ecology in their Decline

Habitat Management & Enforcement

Examination on Scientific Reports - Project 7: Fraser River sockeye fisheries and fisheries management

Examination on Scientific Reports - Project 12: Fraser River Sockeye Habitat Use in the Lower Fraser and Strait of Georgia

Examination on Scientific Reports - Project 10: Fraser River sockeye salmon production dynamics

Habitat Enhancement and Restoration

Habitat Enhancement and Restoration Predation


Examination on Scientific Reports - Project 2: Effects of contaminants on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Fisheries Monitoring and Enforcement

Cultus Lake - SARA Listing Decision

Cultus Lake - Recovery Efforts from 2005 Onwards
Cultus Lake - Recovery Efforts from 2005 Onwards Cultus Lake - SARA Listing Decision

Cultus Lake - Recovery Efforts from 2005 Onwards
Cultus Lake - Recovery Efforts from 2005 Onwards Wild Salmon Policy (Part 1) - Expert Stakeholders

Wild Salmon Policy (Part 1) - Expert Stakeholders
Wild Salmon Policy (Part 1) - Expert StakeholdersWild Salmon Policy (Part 2) - Strategy 4 and Integrated Planning

Effects on the Fraser River Watershed - Urbanization

Effects on the Fraser River Watershed - Pulp and Paper Effluent, Mining Effluent

Effects on the Fraser River Watershed - Municipal Wastewater

Effects on the Fraser River Watershed - Gravel Removal

Effects on the Fraser River Watershed - Logging

Aboriginal Fishing

Effects on Habitat in the Marine Environment

Cultus Lake - SARA Listing Decision
Cultus Lake - SARA Listing DecisionEffects on Habitat in the Marine Environment

- Diseases

Aquaculture Diseases


Hydro, Water, Temperature

Cumulative Impact Assessment

DFO Priorities & Summary

The Cohen Commission reopened for three additional days in December 2011 when positive test results came in for ISAv. Transcripts for those days are at the following links:

Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAv) hearings-

Transcripts day 1 Transcripts day 2 Transcripts day 3

Full transcipts and exhibits for the Cohen Commission can be found here. Click on the calendar day and scroll down on the site for topic, witnesses, transcripts and exhibits.

Cohen Commission Media and Blogs (listed by most recent) :

B.C. salmon farm: virus forces cull of half million fish - (May 19, 2012) Kevin Drews, Canadian Press

Fishery managers predict bleak salmon returns ( May 19, 2012)  Tiffany Crawford, Vancouver Sun

New fish virus prompts call for more Inquiry hearings into B.C. salmon collapse (May 18, 2012) Winnipeg Free Press

Salmon inquiry weighs risk from habitat protection reform (May 4, 2012) Jeff Nagel, North Surrey Delta Leader

Inquiry left scrambling by fisheries plan ( May 2, 2012) Peter O'Neil,  Times Colonist

Proposed Fisheries Act changes upend Cohen Commission salmon inquiry (May 1, 2012) Peter O'Neil, 

Fish activist seeks reopening of federal inquiry ( April 25th, 2012) CBC News

Fraser River sockeye may suffer damaged hearts ( April 24th 2012) Mark Hume, Globe & Mail

B.C. inquiry into 10 million missing salmon begins (June 25,2010) CBC News, Canadian Press

Cohen Inquiry Notes: Blogs from Inside the Courtroom

The future of wild salmon is increasingly being battled out in court and on the ground. Wild salmon advocates are up against big industries and government that threaten the very existence of wild salmon. From the Cohen Commission's Inquiry Into the Decline of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon to the case of wild salmon activist Don Staniford getting sued by a Norwegian owned salmon farm industry in B.C.,these are days to be accounted for as the fight for wild salmon survival continue.

At the Cohen Commission this March 17th there appeared to be no Irish luck present as Dr. Laura Richards, Regional Director of Science for DFO, displayed her expertise at skirting around answers.  Rather than offering her expert knowledge about what is going on with DFO’s studies on the purported retro virus that was first noted in 2008, Dr. Richards danced around the grave issue of the existence and knowledge of the virus. She showed a skill set that can only come from years of DFO-associated avoidance, cover ups and denial.
Most disturbing was Dr. Richards’s rather aloof stance on the threats to the Fraser River Sockeye salmon, in particular her refusal to link any of the threats to fish farms in spite of numerous studies by Dr. Alexandra Morton and Dr. Kristi Miller, Head of Molecular Genetics Section for DFO regarding the matter of a serious retro virus that may be sourced at the fish farms.

Read more here

There is nothing new about government issuing an inquiry into the decline of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon. Indeed, the decline of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon has been of concern for many years, and many inquiries have come and gone with no lasting solutions as of yet. So here we have yet another inquiry looking into many of the same things that have been examined before.

So far we've heard about the cycle of the salmon, the wild salmon policy (and it's lack of implementation), harvest management, Aboriginal Worldview and Cultural Context and Traditional Knowledge (by far the best week in my opinion), more wild salmon policy, commercial fishing, recreational fishing, wild salmon policy again, and this week peruses the examination of scientific reports and the potential effects of climate change on the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon, with more of the previous issues to be brought up again in the weeks to come. And again. And maybe even once more for good measure...

 Read more here


While the last few days of the Cohen Commission were intended to review three scientific projects examining the potential effects of climate change on the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon and the role of freshwater ecology in their decline (which did indeed happen at length), it was a welcome relief to hear the issue of diseases and viruses emerge.

With Dr. Scott Hinch providing the majority of the testimony, lawyers for the Aquaculture Coalition, Conservation Coalition, First Nations Coalition, Area D Salmon Gillnet Association/Area B Harvest Committee (Seine), West Coast Trollers Area G Association, Gov't of Canada and the BCSFA were all eager to get some answers from this well spoken and experienced scientist. It became quite clear that Dr. Hinch can hold his own under the cross examination of so many as he answered all questions with a succinctness that is often lacking. 

Brought up the most was the matter of en route loss and what was causing salmon to migrate into the river up to 6 weeks ahead of their historical norm, with components of all late run stocks since1996 having forgone their typical Straight of Georgia holding pattern. As a result these fish are pushing themselves well out of their optimum temperatures into lethal temperatures as they hold in freshwater much longer than ever before, exposing themselves to the presence of freshwater diseases for a much longer period of time than they would have otherwise. So what could be causing such suicidal behavior?

Read more here