The Cohen Inquiry into the decline of the Fraser sockeye produced .5 million government documents and among them there was no evidence that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is working to understand and protect in the health of wild salmon. As millions of sockeye began dying just before spawning from 1992 – present, scientists within Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) struggled against indifference to figure out why. When they found evidence that the cause might be a salmon farm-origin virus, DFO’s indifference turned to obstruction.
The Cohen Commission’s ISA virus hearing revealed that when trade partners identify a specific disease as a concern, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) takes over control of the investigation and release of information. Samples of wild salmon were confiscated from labs, the virus was redefined to fit a “negative” result, and internal communication suggested prohibiting Canadian labs from testing for ISAv. These actions have nothing to do with protecting wild salmon – they are designed to protect trade. Trade is important to Canada, but the CFIA testified that they have never heard of DFO’s Wild Salmon Policy. The CFIA simply are not in the business of wild salmon and DFO is not allowed to protect wild salmon when conflicts arise with trade partners. Wild salmon move across borders, there needs to be an agency to address their needs that spans the habitat of their entire life history.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has closed their remote offices, cancelled spawning salmon counts, neglected spawning channel maintenance, fired 400 people recently; in short they down-sizing and getting out of the business of wild salmon. They have adopted a premise that they only need to maintain a few rivers and this ignores the power of wild salmon – diversity and the capacity to benefit all of British Columbia. DFO’s greatest service, at this point, might be issuance of the necessary permits, doing the paper work. As a federal agency they are subject to World Trade pressures where wild salmon are by-catch, unintended victims of required trade secrets. When faced with conflict between trade and wild salmon they are not allowed to put wild salmon first. There is no reason to look to DFO to manage wild salmon, because they can’t.
However, there are thousands of people and hundreds of groups spread across BC who are working for wild salmon. There are probably people watching every patch of spawning gravel. There is enormous potential to restore wild salmon if we simply communicate, assist each other and learn from each other. Love for this fish, coast wide databases, traditional, local knowledge, cutting-edge science and human ingenuity could be our compass and tools.