I had intended to continue on with some analysis, or synthesis, of Justice Cohen’s interim report regarding the Commission into the declines of Fraser sockeye — of which, I suppose I will… however, someone else with a propensity for ranting released his assessment of the interim report.
Unfortunately, Conservative MP John Cummins’ assessment/rant (“Cohen’s Interim Report Gets an “F”) does little in bridging gaping divides between various factions of the great salmon discussion — however, he has a history of this sort of fractious approach; lashing out at First Nation fisheries and other First Nation issues. Even more unfortunate, is that it simply seems to further cement the view of many folks, of what the federal Conservatives (or at least the good ‘ol Canadian Alliance) stand for…
The irony in this, as I’ve pointed out before, is that Mr. Cummins is a member of the governing party these days. When he lashes out at the failings of Justice Cohen , or at the failings of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or at the Fisheries Minister — he’s simply lashing out at himself and his political party. Yet, I suppose, one might suggest he’s standing up for his constituents in the Fraser Valley and their views.
If that’s the case, then maybe the federal and provincial government need to do a better job of communicating what aboriginal rights and title are, what they mean, and how they continue to be further defined and recognized in both Canadian courts (e.g. case law) and in international statutes and courts — for example, the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous People.
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First off — what I find so ridiculous about rants on First Nation fisheries — not that there is much of one in Cummins’ latest news release, however, he certainly has slung no shortage of mud on the issue — is that if we start to look at the actual numbers, it’s not quite the great elephant some make it out to be.
Historically, over the last 50 years or so, the commercial (and to much smaller degree, the sport sector) have captured around 95% of the total salmon catch.
First Nation fisheries have captured 5% or less.
Compare this with our immediate neighbors to the south in Washington State — where the Boldt decision of the mid-70s where salmon fisheries were split 50/50 between aboriginal and non-aboriginal fisherfolks.
This year, in BC, would be a great exception to the rule — in the Fraser anyways. Commercial fisheries (largely non-aboriginal) caught about 11.5 million sockeye and First Nation fisheries about 1.5 million sockeye for a catch of about 13% of the total.
So really… the rants about the First Nation impact on commercial fisheries is rather misplaced.
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Cummins’ news release:
There are many references to the Supreme Court’s decision in Sparrow, but only one to the Van der Peet decision and it made no mention of the fact that the court rejected a Sto:lo claim to an aboriginal right to sell or trade salmon, an issue central to many of the fisheries management and enforcement problems on the Fraser.
From someone with a lot of knowledge of the Fraser fishery, this last sentence is sadly mistaken. I’d be curious to hear from Mr. Cummins how he figures that issues with the Sto:lo on the lower Fraser “are central to many of the fisheries management and enforcement problems on the [entire] Fraser.”
Bit of a stretch I’d say…
There are probably over 100 separate First Nations in BC (some numbers suggest 150) that rely on Fraser salmon, especially sockeye — from approach areas along Vancouver Island and coastal areas, up the Fraser to headwaters north and east of Prince George.
If this wide ranging collection of communities relies on, and has relied on for eons, the annual return of salmon — generally catches less than 10% of the total, often less than 5% (and once caught 100% prior to contact) — and has rights to catch these fish as recognized by Canada’s Constitution and a growing collection of case law in Canada’s highest courts (far more than just the Sparrow and Van der Peet decisions) — and that must rally against well-funded lobby groups (and politicians) that represent commercial and sport fishing interests —
I do wonder, then, where are the actual “fisheries management and enforcement problems” on the Fraser?
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From reading Justice Cohen’s interim report, I found numerous suggestions that “the issue central to many of the fisheries management and enforcement problems on the Fraser” lies with the federal ministry – DFO – that is supposed to perform those two crucial functions: fisheries management and enforcement.
Cummins’ new release:
Instead of selecting investigations which were directly relevant to his inquiry, Cohen simply summarizes the recommendations of 22 different reports. Some were noteworthy but most were inconsequential.
It’s surprising that a federal MP figures that reports by either provincial or federal Auditor Generals are “inconsequential”. (I certainly remember the Conservative Party of Canada riding the coattails of a significant Auditor General report right into power in Parliament).
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In Cohen’s interim report:
In 1997, the Auditor General of Canada examined DFO’s activities in conserving the Pacific salmon habitat… It concluded that DFO had not prepared an overview report on the status of fish habitat conservation in Canada, nor had it yet developed an acceptable, standardized measure of habitat productivity. The auditor general made a series of recommendations, including the following:
- DFO should give the collection and management of information on Pacific salmon stocks and habitat a high priority in order to meet the needs of resource managers in the field and any reporting requirements on the status of the resource.
- DFO should clarify the extent to which it intends to apply sustainability and genetic diversity practices to the management of individual salmon stocks and their habitats.
Ummm, yeah, that was 1997. It’s now 2010 — where is the clarity on how DFO intends to apply sustainability and genetic diversity practices?
Oh right, that was the DFO testimony the other day at the Cohen Commission — DFO is now ready to actually implement “ecosystem-based management”. Not bad, only 13 years later…
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In 1999, the Auditor General of Canada concluded that, given the need to satisfy conservation requirements while optimizing fishing opportunities, a better understanding of the genetic diversity of stocks is essential. DFO’s Pacific Region office indicated that, to protect genetic diversity, it would manage salmon on the basis of Conservation Units – groupings of stocks with related genetic characteristics – similar to those adopted in the United States. The auditor general made several recommendations:
- In order to protect the genetic diversity of salmon stocks, DFO should move quickly to determine Conservation Units for all five species.
- DFO should produce comprehensive, integrated status reports on stocks and habitats based on the new Conservation Units for each salmon species. The report should be updated annually and used in developing, implementing, and evaluating fisheries management plans.
Response: DFO agreed that there was a need to improve the integration of information about stock and habitat assessment in order to help guide decisions about fisheries management. This process would be consistent with the ecological approach to fisheries management to which the department is committed and it would be implemented in a staged manner.
Sooo, in 1999, eleven years ago, the Auditor General suggested serious work needed to be done to “satisfy conservation” and “optimizing [sustainable] fishing opportunities.”
Wow, curious that… sure sounds similar to Justice Cohen’s terms of reference. I guess DFO missed the “move quickly” part of the Auditor General’s recommendations. But then “move quickly” and large federal bureaucracies is rather oxymoron-ish.
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And, in 1999, DFO suggested that it: “would be consistent with the ecological approach to fisheries management”?
And, yet, it stands before the Cohen Commission eleven years later saying virtually the same thing?
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A big part of the problem here is the inherent problem with large federal bureaucracies that really know little of what is happening with the left hand, while the right hand gives the finger to over 20 previous reports.
Add in the Peter Principle — which suggests that people rise to their level of incompetence within hierarchical organizations (e.g. bureaucracies).
Add in a ministry with a large proportion of folks riding out the last few years to a decent pension (e.g. don’t rock the boat).
And, to be fair, a federal ministry that has to deal with a changing governing regime every couple years, a current minority regime, and the simple fact that the bulk of federal representatives in Canada come from two provinces (Ontario and Quebec – and a PM from the Prairies) that are as about as concerned with ‘ocean’ issues as outgoing Conservative MP, and Environment Minister, Jim Prentice will be about the environment in his new posting in the senior ranks of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC).
Salmon may be iconic — unfortunately, that status doesn’t stretch all that far east of the Rockies.
(those Pacific coho implanted in the Great Lakes don’t really count…)
As such, I hope that maybe Mr. Cummins and any others reconsider the opinion that the issue central to many of the fisheries management and enforcement problems on the Fraser is aboriginal fisheries and aboriginal rights to salmon.
That might be a bit narrow…
In the meantime, if I was a grading-type individual I would pass along a passing mark to Cohen’s interim report. It’s a pretty thankless task that he is faced with — along with a ridiculous timeline to do the issue justice. As they say in the legal realm: the jury is still out…
I’m guessing that Justice Cohen in receiving a failing grade from one observer is not sitting at home feeling like a chastised child, grounded by his parents for failing the math exam.
Although, I do wonder about the wisdom of lashing out at the Commission when one represents the party that was automatically granted ‘standing’ in this process — the federal government…?