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article imageInquiry to examine the collapse of B.C.'s Sockeye salmon fishery

By Stephanie Dearing     Nov 5, 2009 in Environment
In what is sure to be welcome news to many people in British Columbia, Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, announced Thursday that the government of Canada will hold a judicial inquiry to examine the collapse of B.C.'s Sockeye salmon fishery.
Fishermen, activists, conservationists and members of the general public have been calling for a federal inquiry into the collapse of Canada's Sockeye salmon fishery since the millions of salmon predicted to return this year to spawn did not materialize. Stockwell Day, who is Canada's Trade Minister, will be in Vancouver Friday to announce the judge who will adjudicate the inquiry. The inquiry is to start in early 2010 and wrap up at the latest by May 2011 and will look specifically at the collapse affecting the Fraser River. Harper made the announcement Thursday in Ottawa.
Biologist Alexandra Morton has been working for years to save the salmon. She said that she first got involved in the fight to protect BC's salmon when she realized there was a link between the whales and the salmon disappearing. In an open letter to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, published in the Pacific Free Press, Morton said "If you are serious reversing climate change you need our salmon to grow the forests that stabilize climate and suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Someone in Ottawa has got to take the loss of this essential living powerhouse seriously.
Wild salmon are food security, a powercord between the open ocean and the Province of BC; they are an economic generator; they belong to the people."
Morton has maintained there have been "untruths" surrounding BC's wild salmon and the impact of salmon farms, and she has insisted on an inquiry that has legal teeth.
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans had predicted that there would be 10.5 million Sockeye returning to spawn this year, but there were only around one million fish that made it back. BC's Environment Minister, Barry Penner had recently called for a public review of the "adequacy" of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' forecasting capabilities.
Morton expressed some hope Thursday after Harper's announcement in a press release. The release states "After months of silence from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today a Judicial Inquiry into how DFO is managing the Fraser River sockeye.
"Prime Minister Harper's action is a significant step that could ensure wild salmon have a future," says biologist Alexandra Morton, "there is clearly something very wrong with DFO and it would appear Mr. Harper understands the gravity of the situation. This action makes me cautiously optimistic and hopeful that we are poised at the beginning of a new era of fisheries management, benefiting all Canadians."
BC's fishermen who rely on the wild salmon have been angry with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for its silence on the disappearance of the Sockeye. NDP Peter Julien, based in British Columbia, told press that his office had been swamped with requests from people for an inquiry into the collapse of the salmon fishery. Julien said "For weeks, the NDP and B.C. communities, fishers and grassroots activists have been calling on this government to establish a judicial inquiry. My office has been literally flooded with petitions calling on this government to stop its shallow public relations exercise and act. The hard work and activism finally paid off."
Some people are pointing out Harper's surprise announcement on an inquiry coincides with a by-election in a British Columbia riding that is bounded on one side by the Fraser River. The Fraser was the river with the largest Sockeye losses, although it was not the only river. The Conservative party said it was following through on an election promise made in 2005.
Many in British Columbia, including biologists, maintain that sea lice spread from BC's fish farms have created problems for wild salmon.
In October, Marine Harvest lost at least 40,000 Atlantic salmon, which it raises on its fish farms in British Columbia. Conservationists say the escape of the fish will have a negative impact on the environment and pacific salmon species.
Stockwell Day will be announcing the terms of reference for the judicial inquiry Friday.
The byelection in New Westminster, British Columbia will wrap up on Monday when voters go to the polls.
More about Sockeye salmon, Sockeye collapse, Stephen Harper, Fraser river, British columbia fish farms
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