The Cohen Commission Report was recently tabled in the House of Commons.
This report paints an incredibly dismal picture of the Conservative government's handling not only of British Columbia's iconic sockeye salmon, but all of Canada's fisheries.
On top of Justice Cohen's 75 recommendations to improve the chances for sockeye survival, he also dedicates much of his report to lamenting the recent decision by the Conservatives to gut the protection of fish habitat from the Fisheries Act in their spring omnibus budget bill.
The Fisheries Act changes are made all the more serious considering how much of the Cohen Report is dedicated to the importance of improving rather than eliminating the protection of fish habitat in order to ensure the future survival of the sockeye.
Justice Cohen states that "if current trends persist, there will be a significant decline in the productive capacity of Fraser River sockeye habitat."
If the Conservative government does not immediately change course, current trends will not only persist, they will accelerate.
This government has not just eliminated federal protection of fish habitat, they have fired one third of British Columbia's habitat protection staff, and many more across the country.
According to Justice Cohen, some of the most harmful environmental effects on the sockeye are contaminants and algal blooms. Much of the research in these areas was done by DFO's Contaminants Program and at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northwest-ern Ontario, yet these programs have been axed by the Harper Conservatives.
Eliminating the Contaminants program involved firing 75 DFO scientists, many of whom were based at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Victoria. The ELA is Canada's flag-ship environmental research centre, which was run on an annual budget roughly equal to that of one Conservative cabinet minister's office. These measures are clearly not about saving taxpayers' dollars; they are based purely on an extreme anti-science ideology.
I recently moved a motion in the House of Commons Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to study the Cohen Report and bring Justice Cohen forward as a witness. Unfortunately, the Conservatives moved the meeting in secret and my motion is no longer on the agenda. This kind of thing is becoming far too common in Ottawa.
There are many serious factors that need to be addressed to ensure a positive future for all of Canada's fisheries, including the iconic sockeye. Action must be taken and strong decisions must be made.
The Conservatives can start by reversing their changes to the Fisheries Act and their devastating cuts to DFO such as the Contaminants program and the ELA. They must commit to begin implementing the recommendations found in Justice Cohen's report.
If these changes do not take place, the blindly ideological path this government has taken since they achieved majority status will prove disastrous for the sockeye, for fish habitat, for our environment and for all of Canada's fisheries.
MP Lawrence MacAulay Fisheries and Oceans critic for the Liberal Party of Canada