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Whistler salmon advocate critical of federal fisheries minister

John Fraser marks first year anniversary of the Cohen inquiry into sockeye salmon



The current federal fisheries minister and former Conservative fisheries minister John Fraser don’t agree on much when it comes to the current state of west coast salmon.

Fraser participated in a news conference with the Watershed Watch Salmon Society to mark the one-year anniversary of Justice Cohen’s Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.

The salmon society believes the federal government has taken very little meaningful action since the release of the Cohen findings.

Fraser, who lives in Whistler, said he wants the federal government to explain, with examples, the benefits of recent federal changes impacting salmon and salmon habitat. He also wants the Conservative government in Ottawa to reveal what recommendations they plan to take action on from the Cohen inquiry.

“There’s 75 recommendations and we’re entitled to know as Canadians; what are they going to pursue and what are they going to dump?” said Fraser. “We spent over $20 million on that thing.”

Fisheries minister Gail Shea made herself available to various B.C. news outlets last month ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Cohen inquiry release. In an interview with Pique Shea said Cohen didn’t identify a smoking gun in his inquiry, there was no obvious cause of the massive drop in sockeye returns in 2009.

“The report doesn’t say if you spend $75 million and fix this one item the fish will all return,” said Shea from Ottawa. “If we implemented every recommendation tomorrow there’s still no guarantee of those fish returning.”

Shea pointed to three key actions the federal government took to address the recommendations from Cohen: stream and river rehabilitation, the support of recreational fisheries through the new $10 million Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnership Program and the creation of the Aquaculture Sustainability Program.

The work done since the release of the Cohen inquiry just isn’t enough to satisfy Fraser. He feels salmon habitat protections were watered down through recent changes in legislation.

“You can’t have fish without habitat,” Fraser said.

“It’s all very well to say it’s going to be better than it was before but if I was defending these guys in court I would want to know exactly what they’re talking about and so far we haven’t got that evidence.”

Fraser said Conservative Party leaders in Ottawa need to stop listening to extremists on either end of the salmon issue.

“You are not going to save salmon and habitat by listening to extremism,” said Fraser.

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