Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on April 3, 2013 (updated: March 17, 2015)

Ottawa not acting on Cohen Commission recommendations on how to protect sockeye salmon

Photo: iStock

Most of you have heard the philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I recall hearing many interesting answers to that puzzling conundrum in my first-year philosophy class. Some of the answers were based on science; some based upon an anthropocentric view of the world. Some answers said that it was the wrong question. Many said it doesn’t matter. One brave student said that it did matter, particularly to the tree that fell.

So after two years of testimony, $26 million of taxpayers’ hard-earned money and a final report with over 70 cogent recommendations, I have a question. If the federal government calls a Judicial Commission of Inquiry Into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River – AKA the Cohen Commission – does it even listen to the results? Oh sure, Ottawa is mouthing the usual platitudes, saying they’re studying the report or that the report is complex and is taking some time to understand. They want us to believe they’re on it.

But in the meantime, as is revealed in the 2013 federal budget, the money is continuing to be poured into the pockets and nets of the aquaculture industry and the silence about our wild salmon stocks on the west coast is deafening. At the same time, not a nickel from the 2013 budget has been earmarked for wild salmon. And the recommendations from the Cohen Commission, including the one about separating the mandate of the aquaculture industry from the work of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, go ignored.

Many of Commissioner Bruce Cohen’s recommendations were time triggered. Perhaps with the demise of the Mayan Calendar, the federal government needs a new calendar so that they are aware that the clock is ticking. As it happens, one of my clients, the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, has provided such a calendar on its website.

Some of the recommendations were aimed at the federal government getting the provincial government to do something. Well guess what, the province has responded favourably to those recommendations without the need for prompting from the feds. It can be that simple.

So in an era where inaction from the federal government speaks volumes, what are we to do? Well, if the people we elected don’t act then the people will act. It is time for communities who genuinely care about the precious resource of our wild fish to unite and to do something about the plight of our wild sockeye. If we wait for the federal government to act then it will be too late. Like it was for the Atlantic cod.

And if a report from a Judicial Commission of Inquiry is handed down, does anyone in the federal government hear? The answer does matter, especially to the salmon.

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