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Cohen Response Status Update – October 2018


In 2009, Canada established the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River (Cohen Commission) to investigate the decline of sockeye salmon stocks. While the final report of the Cohen Commission, The Uncertain Future of Fraser River Sockeye, released in October 2012, did not find any “smoking gun” or single factor leading to decreased Pacific salmon stocks, it did make 75 recommendations. The Government of Canada, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), as well as the Province of British Columbia (BC), have now taken actions to address all 75 of these recommendations (see Table 1 below).

Wild salmon are important to the Government of Canada, and through its actions, DFO continues to protect and rebuild the iconic and keystone Pacific salmon species in collaboration with partners for the benefit of the people of Canada and Canada’s marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems. DFO has reviewed each recommendation to ensure that the department is doing all that it can, within its mandate and resources, to address the health and long-term sustainability of Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks, as well as wild Pacific salmon more broadly, but there remains more that can be done. Previous updates of actions taken were provided in August 2016 and September 2017. This final status report provides updated information on actions taken over the past year under the 5 themes of Wild Salmon Policy (WSP), fisheries management, habitat, aquaculture, and science, with a more detailed summary of DFO’s response to all 75 recommendations over the past 3 years included as an annex.

Although this is the final Cohen Response status update, the governments of Canada and British Columbia recognize that acting on many of the recommendations is an ongoing, incremental task. Going forward, ongoing work on many of the Cohen recommendations will continue, particularly across several key areas, such as salmon stock assessment, health status assessment, habitat protection and restoration, precautionary approach to salmon aquaculture, and fisheries management. Many commitments to ongoing action are also reflected in the Wild Salmon Policy 2018-2022 Implementation Plan which outlines specific activities and approaches that will be led by the department over the next 5 years towards restoring and maintaining healthy and diverse Pacific salmon populations and their habitats.

Table 1: Proportion of recommendations, grouped by theme, that have been acted on.
  Wild Salmon Policy Fisheries management Habitat Aquaculture Science Total
Number of recommendations 8 15 19 13 20 75
Acted on as of:            
2016 50% 73% 63% 85% 45% 63%
2017 75% 93% 68% 85% 100% 85%
2018 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%

DFO’s action on the Commission’s recommendations continues to be supported through recent investments, including $197M over 5 years for ocean and freshwater science announced in Budget 2016, $1.5B over 5 years for the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) launched in November 2016, and the Budget 2017 investment of $250M over 5 years plus $62.2M ongoing for renewal and expansion of the integrated commercial fisheries initiatives, including the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (PICFI). Further, 2017 funding resulting from the Program Integrity review has stabilized key sectors and supported salmon stock assessment and catch monitoring related to the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

This status update summarizes, by theme, the further progress made over the past 12 months. A detailed review of the 75 recommendations, including activities undertaken over the last 3 years, is presented in the accompanying annex, including a range of policy tools and programs related to sustaining and improving the health of wild Pacific salmon stocks.

Wild Salmon Policy

Eight of the 75 Cohen recommendations focus on Canada’s Policy for Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon (the Wild Salmon Policy or WSP), including public reporting on a detailed WSP implementation plan and identification of a lead branch for related habitat work. Several of these recommendations were addressed in the 2016 and 2017 Cohen Status Update reports, and since 2017, further actions have been taken on the 2 outstanding recommendations: #7 (regarding the publishing of annual reports on WSP implementation) and #8 (on determining lead sector responsible for implementing WSP strategies 2 and 3, including monitoring, assessing, and reporting on activities). This work now increases the percentage of WSP-related recommendations acted on to 100%.

As with the development of the 2005 policy, DFO took a collaborative approach to the development of the Wild Salmon Policy 2018-2022 Implementation Plan in support of Recommendation #5 (which relates to publishing a detailed Wild Salmon Policy Implementation Plan). Between November 2016 and February 2017, DFO held 14 meetings and open house sessions in BC and Yukon, with over 400 participants representing Indigenous groups, partners, and stakeholders. These conversations guided the development of a detailed draft 5-year WSP Implementation Plan. In fall 2017, DFO staff again consulted broadly with First Nations, Indigenous groups, partners, stakeholders and other interested parties, across BC and Yukon at 32 meetings and open house sessions on an initial draft WSP Implementation Plan. In 2018, DFO incorporated changes to the implementation plan as a result of consultation input.

In support of action on Recommendation #7, the newly released Wild Salmon Policy 2018-2022 Implementation Plan outlines tasks, accountabilities, and timelines for work that will be undertaken by the department over the next 5 years, with a commitment to annual public reporting on progress. It also makes a commitment to add or incorporate additional activities that may result from new programming, such as those related to a renewed Fisheries Act - including any changes that may impact the identification of a lead sector or branch for habitat-related WSP work (Recommendation #8).

Fisheries management

Fifteen of the Cohen recommendations address fisheries management issues, including the development of salmon fishery allocations, monitoring and catch reporting, and enforcement capabilities. Fisheries management integrates the expertise and activities of multiple DFO sectors (i.e. Science, Conservation and Protection (C&P), Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation Directorate, Oceans and Habitat, Policy and Economics, and Aquaculture) to sustainably manage fisheries. Most of the Cohen recommendations under this theme were addressed in the 2016 and 2017 Cohen Status Update reports. Since 2017, action has been taken on the outstanding Recommendation #36 (which relates to consultations with Indigenous groups on how food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fishing is defined and adjusting allocations, when necessary). This work increases the percentage of fisheries management recommendations acted on to 100%.

In support of Recommendation #36, DFO has undertaken significant work to launch a planning process in the fall of 2018 to co-develop a consultation strategy with Indigenous groups. This strategy will allow the department and Indigenous groups to more transparently engage on Indigenous fisheries allocations. In order to complement and inform this co-development process, DFO will be releasing a Draft Framework for Changes to Existing Food, Social and Ceremonial Fisheries Allocations.

Work on other fisheries management recommendations continues. For example, in support of Recommendation #38 (assessing and implementing preferable share-based management model for Fraser River sockeye fishery), DFO continues to develop risk assessments for fisheries monitoring and catch reporting based on the Strategic Framework for Fishery Monitoring and Catch Reporting in the Pacific Fisheries. Once draft risk assessments on the 35 Pacific salmon management units in BC are completed by DFO, they will be shared with harvesters for review and comment, and then finalized. Part of the risk assessment will include the identification of additional monitoring requirements to mitigate fishery risks. Meanwhile, improvements to monitoring and catch reporting also continue through the design and implementation of commercial salmon fishery pilots.

In support of Recommendation #58 (concerning funding for enforcement activities to same level as 2004), in 2018, C&P implemented a long-term recruitment strategy for the Lower Mainland. The plan has resulted in the recruitment of 4 fishery officers based in the Lower Fraser area, with an additional 6 recruits who joined C&P earlier this year to be placed at various locations in fall 2018, and an additional 10 recruits expected to join in 2019. However, recruitment and retention remains an ongoing challenge that requires further work.

In support of Recommendation #60 (DFO and ECCC improving the ability of staff to co-operate and co-ordinate responses to incidents), ECCC and DFO continue to share information on investigations and intelligence work. The two federal departments are finalizing a Detailed Enforcement Implementation Plan that supports the signed Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Cooperation in the Implementation of Pollution Prevention Provisions of the Fisheries Act.


A total of 19 recommendations relate to habitat protection and restoration, including 11 directed to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the BC provincial government. Six recommendations were considered outstanding in 2017, 4 of which have been acted on in 2018; the 2 remaining recommendations, #49 (which relates to decisions about post-emergency mitigation and long-term monitoring of marine spills moving to ECCC co-chair of the Regional Environmental Emergency Team [REET]) and #51 (REET ECCC co-chair considering spill impacts on fish and fish habitat, logistics, ecosystem values, cost recovery, and socioeconomic effects) are addressed through ECCC’s National Environment Emergencies Centre, which DFO contributes to through the Incident Command System and through Oceans Protection Plan programming, as the REET model no longer exists. This raises the proportion of habitat-related recommendations acted on to 100%.

The 4 recommendations acted upon in 2018 (#41 related to DFO implementing the 1986 Habitat Policy; #42 on strengthening monitoring under the Habitat Management Program, #48 regarding managing the impacts of forestry activities on the Fraser River, and #61 concerning restoring of powers of inspection to Habitat Management Program staff) are all related to habitat monitoring based on the pre-2012 version of the Fisheries Act. After extensive engagement on restoring lost protections and incorporating modern safeguards, the proposed amendments to the Fisheries Actwere tabled in Parliament in spring 2018. The amendments include, among others, returning to comprehensive protection against harming all fish and fish habitat, promoting restoration of degraded habitat, rebuilding of depleted fish stocks, and a strengthened role for Indigenous peoples in project reviews, monitoring, and policy development.

Advancing proposed reforms to the Fisheries Actwill address the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard’s 2018 mandate letter commitment to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards so that fish and fish habitat are protected. Once complete, resulting program changes regarding habitat work will be reflected in future DFO departmental plans, as well as updates in 2020 to the Wild Salmon Policy 2018-2022 Implementation Plan to reflect potential program changes resulting from the Fisheries Actamendments currently under review.


Thirteen recommendations relate to the risks, and mitigation of risks, of salmon aquaculture operations on the health of wild Pacific salmon. Actions over the past year on Recommendation #19 (prohibiting net-pen salmon farming in the Discovery Islands in 2020, pending research on the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye) and the continuing delineation of DFO’s role with respect to aquaculture (#3 removing salmon aquaculture products promotion from DFO's mandate) have brought the total number of recommendations acted on to 13, or 100%.

DFO’s recent work includes scientific research investigating the impacts of pathogens from fish farms on migrating wild Pacific salmon. This ongoing work is also captured in the Wild Salmon Policy 2018-2022 Implementation Plan. For example, on September 25, 2018, DFO announced a new science review to assess the risks of piscine reovirus (PRV) transfer from Atlantic salmon farms in the Discovery Islands area to Fraser River sockeye. The review will include domestic and international scientific experts from government, academia, Indigenous communities, ENGOs, and industry. The report will be reviewed by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat in early 2019, and the final report will be made publically available following this review. This is 1 of 10 risk assessments being undertaken by DFO to understand the risk of pathogen transfer associated with aquaculture activities in the Discovery Islands.

In addition, on September 27th, 2018, the Government of Canada announced that both DFO and Environment and Climate Change Canada will create a new departmental science advisor position in each department. Reporting directly to the deputy ministers, the departmental science advisors will play an important role in supporting high quality scientific research within the federal departments and will help make government science available to Canadians. The first task of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s departmental science advisor will be to establish a new External Advisory Committee on Aquaculture. This committee will provide advice on longer-term science priorities and mechanisms to better inform decision making. The committee and the departmental science advisor will complement, and be shaped by, the work of Canada’s chief science advisor.

The department continues to work on improving the accessibility and timelines for fish health data availability, and is engaged in scientific studies to fill knowledge gaps, inform standards and operational requirements, guide practices at hatcheries, and adjust requirements on salmon farms siting. Recommendation #3 suggested that the mandate of promoting salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product be removed from DFO. The Government of Canada's responsibility for the fish and seafood industry continues to be split between DFO, which regulates and manages the production end of the business (wild or farmed fish when they are in the water), and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), which provides market-development and traceability support. In addition, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) sets the policies, requirements, and inspection standards. The promotion of Canadian foods to international markets is the responsibility of Global Affairs Canada (GAC).


Twenty recommendations relate to science work in the areas of: fish health, stock assessment, and climate change. As reported in 2017, all of these recommendations have been acted on, supported in part by a Budget 2016 investment of an additional $40 million annually for 5 years in ocean and freshwater science. Science is a core component of the department and an integral part of sustainably managing Pacific salmon. Some key areas of continuing work that relate to Cohen Commission recommendations include:

An example of this work is the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative, one of several collaborations DFO is engaged in with partners including the University of British Columbia, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and Genome BC. This research includes evaluating the impacts of biological, chemical and physical oceanographic variables, including water temperature, the presence or absence of harmful algal blooms, pathogens and disease on the abundance, health, condition and rates of mortality of Fraser River sockeye salmon. Studies focus on surveys of potential pathogens along the freshwater and early marine migration route of sockeye salmon from the mouth of the Fraser River to the Gulf of Alaska, as well as tracking of smolts from rearing areas through Johnstone and Juan de Fuca Straits to provide information on the locations of mortality. This information can be used to explore linkages between survival and freshwater pathogens, cumulative impact studies on the role of infection status on predation risk, and studies on interactions between hatchery and wild fish. In addition, DFO has developed biomarkers to predict the presence of specific stressors such as temperature, low oxygen, osmotic pressure, and viral disease that will further advance assessing the health of salmon during their outmigration from the Fraser River through the Strait of Georgia.

A second example is Canada’s role in the International Year of the Salmon planned for 2019. This initiative, led by the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, will work internationally to further our collective understanding of the factors impacting salmon abundance and distribution in the northern Hemisphere, including Fraser River sockeye salmon. Planning is currently underway for a collaborative International Gulf of Alaska Winter Salmon Study as part of the International Year of the Salmon, involving researchers from Russia, Canada, the United States, and the Pacific Salmon Foundation. This study will examine the distribution and condition of salmon after their first winter at sea.


Wild Pacific salmon are an iconic, keystone species that hold cultural, social, and economic significance to Canadians, particularly to those living in British Columbia and Yukon. This final report provides an overview of work taken to act on the Cohen recommendations. However, more remains to be done and many of these recommendations will require ongoing work. The Government of Canada is committed to continuing its effort to restore and sustain British Columbia’s salmon populations. Going forward, more information on many of these initiatives can be found in the Wild Salmon Policy 2018-2022 Implementation Plan and on DFO’s website

Conserving and protecting wild Pacific salmon cannot be accomplished by DFO alone, as reflected in the Cohen Commission recommendations directed toward other governmental agencies. Though the Cohen Commission focused on Fraser River sockeye Salmon stocks, DFO’s response to the recommendations encompasses the sustainable management of all wild Pacific salmon in collaboration with Indigenous groups, BC and Yukon governments, stakeholders and other partners in BC and Yukon. DFO is committed to the long-term work of implementing Cohen recommendations within its mandate, and will continue to work with Indigenous groups, intergovernmental partners, and stakeholders to address the health and sustainability of wild Pacific salmon.

Below is a list of all 75 summarized recommendations by theme. A more detailed summary of DFO’s response to all 75 recommendations over the last 3 years by theme, also accompanies this report as an annex.

Table 2: Summary of Cohen recommendations, grouped by theme.
Theme Rec # Recommendation summary
WSP 4 Create new associate regional director general position for Wild Salmon Policy oversight
5 Publish detailed Wild Salmon Policy Implementation Plan
6 Establish dedicated funding to implement and cover ongoing operational costs of the Wild Salmon Policy
7 DFO should publish annual report on WSP implementation
8 Determine lead sector responsible for implementing WSP strategies 2 and 3, including monitoring, assessing, and reporting
9 Immediately take steps to being integrated strategic planning under WSP Strategy 4
10 Implement WSP Strategy 4, including a socio-economic framework for integrated strategic planning and priority conservation unit restoration and protection planning
75 Report to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans bi-annually on status of WSP and Cohen implementation
Fisheries management 1 DFO follow principle that the minister has ultimate authority in Fraser River sockeye fisheries decisions
2 Relating to wild fisheries, DFO's paramount regulatory objective is to conserve wild fish
25 Within 30 days of integrated fisheries management plan approval, DFO to make public rationale for harvest rules
26 DFO complete planned review of Fraser River sockeye spawning model
31 Monitor all Fraser River sockeye fisheries at enhanced level
36 Following consultations, DFO articulate clear definition of food, social and ceremonial fishing and adjust when necessary all existing allocations
37 During negotiations of an agreement, DFO to encourage First Nations to provide information relevant to determining food, social and ceremonial needs
38 DFO assess and implement preferable share-based management model for Fraser River sockeye fishery
39 DFO analyse in-river demonstration fisheries ability to provide tangible conservation and First Nations economic benefits before expanding the program
40 DFO develop reallocation policies and practices in inclusive and transparent manner
58 DFO fund enforcement activities to same level as 2004
59 DFO and ECCC to clarify ECCC's responsibility to enforce section 36 of the Fisheries Act in the Pacific Region
60 DFO and ECCC to improve ability of staff to co-operate and co-ordinate responses to incidents
63 Remove clause allowing retention of "mortally wounded" Fraser River sockeye salmon from fishing licences
72 Consider cumulative effects of stressors on Fraser River sockeye in fisheries and fish habitat management
Habitat 41 DFO implement the 1986 Habitat Policy
42 DFO strengthen monitoring under the Habitat Management Program
43 DFO encourage BC to eliminate gaps between the Riparian Areas Regulation and the Water Act
44 DFO encourage BC to monitor effectiveness and compliance with the Riparian Areas Regulation
45 DFO work with BC to achieve 90% Riparian Areas Regulation compliance rate
46 DFO encourage BC to amend Riparian Areas Regulation
47 DFO encourage BC to Complete modernization of the Water Act
48 DFO manage the impacts of forestry activities on the Fraser River
49 Decisions about post-emergency mitigation and long-term monitoring of marine spills move from Canadian Coast Guard to ECCC co-chair of the Regional Environmental Emergency Team
50 Regional Environmental Emergency Team to include DFO staff from the Ecosystem Management Branch and Science
51 Regional Environmental Emergency Team ECCC co-chair consider spill impacts on fish and fish habitat, logistics, ecosystem values, cost recovery, and socioeconomic effects
52 Identify DFO staff member to liaise with CCG, ECCC, and BC on marine habitat spill response
53 DFO and ECCC to regularly monitor fresh and marine water for contaminants affecting Fraser River sockeye
54 DFO encourage BC to require forestry and agricultural industry to record and report pesticide use in a database
55 DFO and ECCC work with BC and municipalities to ensure monitoring of pulp and paper, mining, and wastewater and aim to reduce toxins in municipal wastewater
56 Canada finalize Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations
57 Canada limit impact of wastewater bio solids on fisheries resources
61 DFO restore powers of inspection to Habitat Management Program staff
62 DFO to re-establish specialized habitat fishery officer within Pacific Region
Aquaculture 3 Remove salmon aquaculture products promotion from DFO's mandate
11 To develop data series, DFO should continue to collect fish health data from salmon farm operators
12 DFO should require fish samples from salmon farm operators as a condition of licence
14 DFO should not issues any new licences, permit production increases, or allow existing licenses to exceed 1 year within the Discovery Islands
15 DFO should consider proximity to migrating Fraser River sockeye when siting salmon farms
16 Following consultations, salmon farm citing guidelines should be revised to reflect new scientific research
17 Revised siting guidelines should apply to all licensed farm sites
18 If existing salmon farms in the Discovery Islands are found to pose more than minimal risk to Fraser River sockeye health prior to September 30, 2020, the minister should order those farms to cease operations
19 Prohibit net-pen salmon farming in the Discovery Islands on September 30, 2020, pending research on the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye
20 Conduct research and analysis, and consult interested parties in support of the September 2020 Discovery Islands decision
21 Establish conditions of licence and monitoring/compliance program for salmonid enhancement facilities
22 DFO establish a database of enhancement facility fish health
23 DFO conduct a risk assessment of Fraser River sockeye interactions with enhanced salmon
Science 13 DFO provide non-government researchers access to fish health data gathered from DFO programs
24 DFO work with North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission to address wild and enhanced salmon interactions from other countries on the high seas
27 DFO continue to monitor Fraser River temperature and flow at not less than 2010 levels
28 DFO continue to contribute to the Pacific Salmon Commission's test-fishing program
29 DFO continue to fund Mission and Qualark hydroacoustic facilities to operate at 2010 levels
30 Designate individual to coordinate efforts relating to selective fishing practices and study post-release survival rates
32 Continue Fraser River sockeye enumeration at 2010 precision level and determine calibration for spawners
33 DFO increase number of lakes in which annual stock assessments are conducted from 2 to 4
34 DFO allocate funding for stock assessment of other Fraser River salmon species
35 DFO support involvement of First Nations in stock assessment activities within their traditional territories
64 Undertake research of Fraser River estuary sockeye smolts to determine stock abundance, health, and mortality rates
65 Undertake research into significant mortality occurrences in the near-shore marine environment
66 Propose international, integrated ecosystem research program
67 Encourage new research into novel diseases and other conditions affecting wild fish
68 Undertake research into health of Fraser River sockeye salmon
69 Undertake research into life history of Harrison River sockeye population
70 Initiate working group with Washington, Oregon and Alaska to collect and analyse data on sockeye salmon populations productivity
71 Develop research strategy to assess cumulative effects of stressors on Fraser River sockeye salmon
73 Develop public inventory of existing and new Fraser River sockeye salmon research
74 Champion reasonable steps with Canada and internationally to address causes of warming waters and climate change
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