On Dec. 15, the Cohen Commission hearings reopened to review evidence of ISAv (Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus) in BC waters. The $25 million commission added an extra three days to its hearings after two wild salmon tested positive for ISAv from Rivers Inlet and four more from the Fraser River system in October and November.
This virus is listed internationally as a reportable disease; it is considered as serious as Mad Cow Disease in bovines or Avian Flu in domestic fowl. Its discovery in BC waters should have been reported to the World Animal Health Organization. A report of ISA in wild salmon normally triggers a list of international actions.
In the past few weeks, a shocking report has surfaced, shaking public confidence in Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The report, co-authored by DFO six years ago, found over 100 cases of ISAv in wild salmon and 100 per cent ISAv in those samples taken from the critically endangered Cultus Lake sockeye. These findings were never brought to light nor submitted to the Cohen Commission.
The 2005 Wild Salmon Policy gives DFO the go-ahead to promote aquaculture, in clear contradiction to its mandate to protect wild salmon. It is obvious to me that political pressure has encumbered DFO’s ability to carry out its fundamental responsibilities.
Alarmed at evidence of DFO’s management, and coinciding with the reopening of the Cohen Commission, concerned citizens across BC came out last week to demand protection of wild salmon. Demonstrations took place at DFO offices in Tofino, Nanaimo, Chilliwack (by Sto:lo Nation members at the office of MP Mark Strahl), Victoria and Vancouver.
At noon on Tuesday, Dec. 13, local salmon advocates showed up in front of the Lillooet DFO offices, under the banner of Salmon Talks. Two local DFO officers, Tom Grantham and a young woman with a camera, came out to greet us. We assured them that this was a peaceful demonstration. Tom Grantham expressed approval of our concern and congratulated us for coming out despite the cold. He felt it only fair to inform us, however, that, being a member of the enforcement division of DFO, he probably didn’t know a whole lot more about the salmon situation than we did.
Bill Spencer spoke for us, describing the purpose of the gathering, and making perfectly clear our demand that DFO fulfill its mandate in defense of wild salmon, rather than throwing up impediments to necessary scientific research.
The following demands were made by salmon advocates to solve the problem of BC salmon aquaculture. They were read aloud in the circle:
immediate testing for ISAv, independent and transparent, at all salmon farming facilities, enhancement hatcheries, including wild salmon and trout populations, with duplicate samples sent to independent labs;
suspension of DFO’s mandate to promote salmon aquaculture in open-net-cage industrial feedlots on the BC coast. DFO scientists must be free to investigate the condition of wild Pacific salmon and farm salmon without interference by business-motivated political powers. Salmon disease cannot be perpetuated as a federal secret
removal of fish from salmon farms from the Fraser sockeye migration route before the coming March out-migration of juvenile salmon.
no new salmon farms or expansion should be allowed; and no more imports of Atlantic salmon eggs to BC;
Begin consultations with First Nations impacted by salmon feedlots to determine the extent of loss and damages suffered as well as appropriate reparations to these First Nations;
Reinstate the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, a science organization substantially free of political influence.
Tom Grantham listened respectfully to our demands and reiterated his approval of our efforts to raise consciousness around this critical issue. He accepted the document from which Bill had made our statement and assured us that he would pass it on to the higher-ups in DFO.
To end the ceremony, Christine Jack of Xwisten sang a song dedicated to salmon and to the generations of ancestors who have benefited by nature’s generous gift; and to those yet unborn who will come into this heritage. Last , there were songs dedicated to warriors, both men and women, who step forward to defend wild salmon.
News Break! As I write this article, reports arrive from the Cohen Commission that scientists have confirmed the presence of ISAv in wild Pacific salmon and in a fish farm on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Also, that DFO has known about the presence of ISAv in BC for a long time, and has chosen not to investigate and actually to suppress the information to avoid economic and trade repercussions.
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