Key witness finally speaks at salmon inquiry

But comments limited to courtroom only

One of the key witnesses in the disappearance of sockeye salmon was finally able to speak publicly at the Cohen Commission of Inquiry last week.

But her comments continue to be limited to the courtroom only and Kristi Miller hasn’t been able to talk publicly afterwards, says MLA Michael Sather.

Sather is fisheries critic in the B.C. legislature and has been sitting in on several days of the inquiry.

Last week, Miller arrived and left the inquiry surrounded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada officers, who kept media away as Miller arrived and departed, Sather said.

He disagrees with his federal counterpart and local MP Randy Kamp, secretary to the fisheries ministry, who says that Miller wasn’t muzzled by Fisheries.

“Clearly, that’s not the case,” Sather said.

Miller told the inquiry last week that it was only through the inquiry process that she learned the order not allowing her to talk about her research study published in 2009 in the journal Science, came from the Privy Council Office, which advises the prime minister.

“It’s not the DFO, it’s the Prime Minister’s Office in conjunction with the Privy Council Office.”

But regardless of whether it was Fisheries or the PMO, it’s the same government that wouldn’t allow her to speak, Sather added.

Miller said last week that wild sockeye salmon, with a genetic marker that indicates a virus, are 13 times less likely to return to their spawning grounds.

Under cross examination by the lawyer for the salmon-farming industry, she confirmed that signs show that the virus is more prevalent in young fish in fresh water, far removed from fish farms.

Sather admits there’s still doubt about the effect fish farms have on wild salmon stocks. His party has called for moving fish farms on to shore.

“I don’t know whether exactly what effects fish farms have on the sockeye. But I think there’s enough concern that they should be cautious.

Sather is also concerned about information and records on fish health that so far have been kept secret by the B.C. Ministry of Environment.

But those recently were released to the inquiry, he noted.

Sather added that the fish-farming industry is worried about a possible virus because one decimated chinook stocks on fish farms several years ago.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada didn’t respond to a request to speak to Miller.

Sather is also upset with the provincial government, which has lawyers participating in the inquiry, while the Ministry of Agriculture refuses to answer questions to the media.

“The lawyer as well, clearly defending the role of fish farming at this hearing – very aggressively.

“If they’re going to do that, that’s OK – but the minister has the responsibility to talk about the issue.”

The provincial government says that fish health is not in their jurisdiction, “but clearly it is.”

Still, the Cohen Commission has produced a valuable exchange of information, he added.