Cohen Response Status Update - September 2017

Introduction

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. The final report of the Cohen Commission, The Uncertain Future of Fraser River Sockeye, was released in October 2012 and included 75 recommendations. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), along with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the Province of British Columbia (BC), have now acted on 64, or 85%, of these recommendations (Table 1). As part of our ongoing commitment to openness and transparency, an update of actions taken to address the recommendations was first provided in August 2016. This status report provides updated information on the actions taken in the past year. For ease of understanding, recommendations are grouped under the five themes of Wild Salmon Policy (WSP), Fisheries Management, Habitat, Aquaculture, and Science.

Table 1: Proportion of recommendations under each theme that have been acted on to date.
  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%

Due to the broad scope of the 75 recommendations made by the Cohen Commission, DFO has taken an integrated approach to address them through a range of policy tools and programs. Action on the Cohen recommendations continues to be incorporated into DFO’s ongoing work across several areas including stock assessment, health status assessment, habitat protection and restoration, aquaculture assessment, and fisheries management. Overall, DFO’s actions in response to the recommendations aim to improve the health of all wild Pacific salmon stocks.

DFO’s action on the Commission’s recommendations has been further supported through recent new investments including $197M over five years for ocean and freshwater science, $1.5B over five years for the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), and $250M over five years plus $62.2M ongoing for renewal and expansion of the integrated commercial fisheries initiatives, including the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (PICFI), and to augment Indigenous collaborative management programming. Further, 2017 funding resulting from the Program Integrity review will stabilize key sectors and support salmon stock assessment and catch monitoring related to the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
This status update summarizes, by theme, the progress made over the past 12 months on the recommendations. A detailed review of the 75 recommendations under the five themes is presented in the accompanying annex.

Wild Salmon Policy

Eight recommendations focus on Canada’s Policy for Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon (the Wild Salmon Policy or WSP), including identifying the need for a detailed WSP Implementation Plan. Since August 2016, actions taken by DFO have increased the number of recommendations acted on to six, an increase to 75%.

As with the development of the 2005 Wild Salmon Policy, DFO is taking a collaborative approach to the development of a detailed 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 First Nations, Indigenous groups, partners, and stakeholders. These conversations have guided the development of a draft detailed five-year WSP Implementation Plan, and have identified key interests and activities that participants believe should be included. In fall 2017, DFO staff will be consulting broadly with First Nations, Indigenous groups, partners, stakeholders and other interested parties across BC and Yukon on all elements of the draft Implementation Plan. In addition, DFO is identifying tasks, accountabilities and timelines, which will allow for annual reporting on WSP related activities. Completion of the detailed WSP Implementation Plan is anticipated in 2018.

Meanwhile, DFO continues to implement measures consistent with the WSP. A recent highlight is a re-assessment of stock status for the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon red zone conservation units conducted in spring 2017, for which the Science Advisory Report will be published in fall 2017. The results will inform fisheries management, habitat, and hatchery enhancement work in support of the WSP integrated planning process and development of the Implementation Plan. Since many sectors within DFO incorporate the WSP principles into their work, the Department has created an internal oversight process involving key regional senior management to oversee WSP implementation, rather than create a new position. In addition, work by staff across several DFO programs and sectors is further supported by the recent creation of four positions funded by the Budget 2016 investment in ocean and freshwater science and by funds resulting from the Program Integrity review, including two State of Salmon positions.

Fisheries Management

Fifteen recommendations address fisheries management issues, including the development of fishery allocations, monitoring and catch reporting, and enforcement capabilities. Fourteen of these recommendations have been acted on, an increase to 93%. Work to address the final recommendation is anticipated to begin in the next year. Fisheries management integrates the expertise and activities of multiple DFO sectors (i.e. Science, Conservation and Protection, Aboriginal Policy and Governance, Oceans and Habitat, Policy and Economics, and Aquaculture) to sustainably manage fisheries. Many of the recommendations under this theme are now fully incorporated into the operations of DFO and its work with First Nations, partners and stakeholders.

One example of DFO’s response to the Cohen recommendations is the continued work on the Commercial Salmon Allocation Framework, which supported action regarding recommendations on commercial allocations, reallocations of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon, and share-based management models. The Framework has: established a fixed five-year allocation plan for all commercial salmon fishery participants (2015-19) with provisions to review allocations after the 2018 season; provided a mechanism for transfers of allocations between groups based on individual commercial licences and in-season transfer guidelines; and provided flexibility for commercial fleets and First Nations to manage their allocations using the approaches best suited to the needs and interests of fishery participants while ensuring DFO’s conservation, management, and compliance objectives are met.

As well, a key recent DFO initiative has been to undertake risk assessments for fisheries monitoring and catch reporting, based on the Strategic Framework for Fishery Monitoring and Catch Reporting in the Pacific Fisheries, using a tool that allows for a consistent approach regarding ecological risk and other resource management considerations. Draft risk assessments on the 35 Pacific salmon management units in BC are underway and, once completed by DFO, will be presented to harvesters for review, comment and revision through existing advisory processes. Fishery risk assessments will be finalized, including identifying additional monitoring requirements to mitigate fishery risks. Improvements to monitoring and catch reporting through the design of commercial salmon fishery pilots that verify landed catch at the 20% level within competitive fisheries is also underway, although testing of approaches is not yet complete.

In support of enforcement capacity, C&P is reviewing opportunities to staff up to four fishery officers based in the Lower Fraser area. In the interim, C&P continues to rotate officers into the Lower Fraser from other areas to meet peak demands.

Habitat

Nineteen recommendations relate to habitat protection and restoration, including 11 directed to ECCC and the BC provincial government; 13 of these recommendations have been addressed (68%). Two of the recommendations are directed toward a team (Regional Environmental Emergency Team) that no longer exists raising the proportion acted on to 76% of current recommendations.

DFO staff work with intergovernmental partners to encourage and support the implementation of habitat risk mitigation, water and riparian areas regulation, and marine spills response and monitoring. Six Cohen recommendations are supported through the $1.5 billion OPP investments and collaboration between DFO, Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada and ECCC. In particular, this funding will support the creation of coastal zone plans, identify coastal restoration priorities and fund habitat restoration projects through engagement with First Nations, resource users and local communities. Additionally, several other habitat-related recommendations include pieces that will be addressed under the four pillars of the OPP, which are

  • Creating a world-leading marine safety system that ensures responsible shipping, including improved pollution preventive and response measures;
  • Restoring and protecting marine ecosystems and habitats, including preventing and mitigating the cumulative impacts of shipping on marine mammals, using new tools and research, and taking measures to address abandoned boats and wrecks;
  • Strengthening partnerships and launching co-management practices with Indigenous communities, including building local emergency response capacity;
  • Investing in oil spill related research to ensure that decisions taken  are evidence based.

The four outstanding recommendations relate to habitat monitoring based on the pre-2012 version of the Fisheries Act, which had been previously considered out of date. The government is currently moving forward with legislative, policy and program changes to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards, as recommended by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans entitled Review of changes made in 2012 to the Fisheries Act: Enhancing the Protection of Fish and Fish Habitat and the management of Canadian Fisheries. DFO will continue to assess the Cohen recommendations in the context of changes to the Fisheries Act over the next year.

Aquaculture

Thirteen recommendations concern the risks, and mitigation of risks, of aquaculture operations on the health of wild Pacific salmon. As indicated in 2016, 11 of these recommendations have been acted on including: new fish farm siting guidelines developed in collaboration with the Province of BC, First Nations and stakeholders; the collection of fish health data from salmon farm operators; and the publication of fish health data on DFO’s website and through the federal Open Data portal.
DFO staff are working on improving the accessibility and timelines for fish health data availability. DFO has launched scientific studies to fill knowledge gaps, inform standards and operation requirements and guide practices at hatcheries, as well as adjust requirements on where salmon farms can be located.
One of the remaining recommendations has a decision date of 2020 and will be based on the results from scientific studies that are currently underway, including research investigating the impacts of pathogens from fish farms on migrating wild Pacific salmon.

Science

Twenty recommendations relate to science work in the areas of fish health, stock assessment, and climate change. All recommendations have been acted on, with 11 recommendations moving from outstanding over the past year largely due to the Budget 2016 investment of $40 million annually for five 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 active areas of work that relate to Cohen Commission recommendations include

  • Monitoring in-river temperature and flow;
  • Surveys of Sockeye Salmon fry productivity in lakes;
  • The evaluation of biological and chemical attributes of the freshwater habitat;
  • Stock assessment monitoring of escapement to spawning grounds;
  • A report evaluating fishing-related incidental mortality of Pacific salmon species in several fisheries;
  • Studies on salmon health status;
  • Surveys of distribution and migration patterns;
  • Impacts of birds and disease on marine survival of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon;
  • Risk-assessment of pathogen transfer from aquaculture to wild salmon;
  • Studies of the application of genomics technology to assess for pathogens affecting Fraser Sockeye Salmon;
  • The cumulative effects of stressors on Fraser River Sockeye Salmon.

One 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. These collaborations include research 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. These studies include 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 and 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 amongst survival and freshwater pathogens, cumulative impact studies including assessing the role of infection status on predation risk, and studies on interactions between hatchery and wild fish. In addition, DFO has developed biomarkers (that have yet to be validated) 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 proposal to lead the International Year of the Salmon in 2019. This proposal was accepted by the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and endorsed by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, and will work to further understand 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 measure biological, chemical and physical oceanographic variables in the Gulf of Alaska that may influence salmon abundance and distribution, including salmon in BC and Yukon.

Conclusion

Wild Pacific salmon are iconic and hold cultural, social, and economic significance to Canadians, particularly to those living in British Columbia and Yukon.

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 First Nations, partners and stakeholders in BC and Yukon. Addressing the recommendations on a thematic basis strengthens DFO’s ability to continue to respond in an integrated manner. DFO is committed to the long-term work of implementing Cohen recommendations within its mandate, and will continue to work with intergovernmental partners, First Nations, and stakeholders to address the health and sustainability of wild Pacific salmon.

A snapshot of DFO’s response to the recommendations, focusing on work in the past 12 months, accompanies this report as an annex.

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