The villain behind sockeye decline

Examining the causes proves there's plenty of blame to go around.

The villain behind sockeye decline

The Cohen Inquiry into the disappearance of Fraser River sockeye says there’s ‘no smoking gun’ to explain the stock’s continuous decline.

“To think of a cause as a single entity,” says Cohen, hinders our focus on “remedial action” and “understanding the issues.”

Instead, Cohen identifies several smoking guns and explains the full impact each has on wild fish.

Firstly, there’s the DFO’s conflict of interest. Cohen says,“DFO should no longer be responsible for promoting salmon farming” because “there is a risk it will act in a manner that favours the interests of the salmon farming industry.”

Open-pen fish farms, an obvious smoking gun, are a source of lice and viruses – deadly for wild salmon. They don’t belong in the path of migrating sockeye, concludes Cohen.

But, the highest-caliber smoking gun, the one concealed behind a grassy knoll – Bill C-38 – is the Harper government’s rewriting of laws for habitat protection.

“I find the thrust of these amendments to be troubling,” writes Cohen. “Many experts have emphasized the importance of protecting fish habitat, promoting biodiversity and adopting eco-system management practices. However, the recent amendments of the F.A. appear to be taking the DFO in a different direction.”

The public’s disapproval of that “different direction”– away from protecting salmon and towards oil and gas development – is clear.

“I was impressed with how passionate British Columbians are about protecting our wild sockeye stocks,” notes Cohen.

Early evidence of Harper’s new direction, and his plan for paving it over the wishes of Canadians, appears in Section 35 of the new Fisheries Act, originally meant to safeguarded habitat. Until reworded, it read, “no person shall carry on work or undertaking that results in harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat.”

“Destruction” and “disturbance” need no explanation, but this wording is now intentionally weakened by vague terms like “serious harm,” which invites debate by lawyers and judges. Henceforth, offences for “serious harm” to habitat may not make it to court anyway because the minister may intercept the process by citing “exceptions” in any complaint. He may also insert “qualifiers” to allow habitat damage to occur.

Before amendments,“no person” was allowed to commit a HADD. Now, notes Cohen, HADDs “may occur at the discretion of the Minister” under “prescribed conditions.”

Amendment to Section 36 is another get-out-of-jail free card for oil and gas developments, including Enbridge. Wording once kept the lid on deleterious substances entering habitat. Again, changes allow the minister to make “exceptions.” Cohen says these include: the contribution of the relevant fish to the productivity of commercial, recreational, or Aboriginal fisheries; fisheries management objectives (promoting fish farms, for example).

Probable scenarios? A farmer lays irrigation pipe in a stream that fish live in. He upturns the bank, and machinery leaks oil into the water. Under the amendments, the farmer could successfully argue he needed water to save his crops, and the fish affected were of no “economic value.”

Imagine a student insisting he ‘had to’ steal a lunch because he was hungry, and the other kid’s food wasn’t worth much. We’ve lost salmon if that thinking stands, and our moral path.

More bad amendments occur within the Environmental Assessment Act. Cohen notes the CEAA, 2012, says“not all designated projects will require assessment” and screening on projects that could impact the environment will no longer be performed by DFO staff, but by a review panel established by the Ministries involved.

And, as with the Enbridge pipeline, final approval rests with cabinet. Not very reassuring for habitat, especially when anyone expressing concerns has only 20 days to prepare after public posting of the project.

Cohen summarizes amendments to the Species at Risk Act, a smoking gun. These changes threaten whole runs of sockeye identified by DFO in its Wild Salmon Policy – a project to identify and sustain sockeye within 20-30 “conservation units.”

Cohen urges DFO to implement the policy now.

DFO has delayed, perhaps because Harper is moving “in a different direction,” one illustrated by Cohen’s review of one CU, Cultus Lake Sockeye,

Once a run of 20,000 fish harvested by Soowahlie First Nations for centuries, Cultus sockeye plummeted to 93 fish in the year 2000 (DFO numbers). They could have been saved by habitat remediation, an obligation of the minister when a species is listed in SARA.

The law stated,“you may not kill, harass, or destroy the habitat of a listed species”(that kills them).

DFO directed SARA not to list these fish, or any henceforth, without balancing their survival against “socio-economic” factors as defined by Harper in amendments.

The new SARA has abandoned 197 species or more since amendments. In 2006, 13 environmental groups, including Nature Canada, the Suzuki Foundation, Forest Ethics, protested SARA’s failure to list or remediate threatened habitat.

Smoking guns? The secretive reworking of our laws to enable industry while advancing the destruction of habitat and salmon – slipped into law before Cohen could report – can’t be tolerated.

Cohen’s recommendations need to be acted on immediately. Failing to do so aggravates the insult to the inquiry process.

The central villain behind the decline of sockeye – the one holding most smoking guns  – has always been the Harper government.


Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Howard Done and his wife were walking through the Yennadon neighbourhood of Maple Ridge, when they encountered this young buck relaxing in the grass on a vacant lot at the corner of 232nd Street and 128th Avenue. "He didn't seem to be bothered by any of the traffic, pedestrians or dogs," Done noted. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Young buck caught lounging in Yennadon

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and all others in the province have been closed to services by a public health order. (Google)
Churchgoers question closure in latest health orders

Pitt Meadows pastor notes soccer club can still rent church gymnasium

The employees of Maple Ridge Hyundai pose around their coat donation box. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge Hyundai dealership holds coat drive

Business aim to collect 100 coats for local Salvation Army in second year of charity initiative

Mary Robson, executive director of the Friends In Need Food Bank, is renting two additional facilities because of the COVID-19 provincial guidelines. (The News/files)
New COVID guidelines creates storage issues for Maple Ridge food bank

Must store non-perishables for two days before being able to hand it out to clients

There have been COVID-19 exposure events at three more schools. (Pixabay)
COVID-19 exposure events at three more schools

Maple Ridge schools exposed to the virus

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Phillip Tallio was just 17 when he was convicted of murder in 1983 (file photo)
Miscarriage of justice before B.C. teen’s 1983 guilty plea in girl’s murder: lawyer

Tallio was 17 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 22-month-old cousin

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest, B.C. premier tells Penticton girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

Most Read