wow, shocking… Commission extension & DFO fighting court cases rather than protecting salmon

Wow, shocking news. The Cohen Commission gets an extension and a near double of its initial budget of $14 million.

We now have a $25 million budget, and a couple years of quasi-legal wrangling.

Cohen Commission granted extension for final report

Cohen commission given 13 more months, $11 mill to complete Fraser Sockey inquiry

For those of you who were holding your breath… take a deep breath.

And for First Nations attempting to negotiate Treaties with wild salmon as a key component — another year of waiting as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans made the brilliant decision to yank fisheries chapters off Treaty table when the Commission started.

Or, for things like Salmon Think Tanks and other events — don’t expect DFO to participate. They are just toooo busy.

Too busy doing what? (some might ask)

Well…

Too busy appealing Federal court cases that suggest their ministry is failing miserably in protecting endangered Orcas in the Salish Sea (protected under the Species at Risk Act – SARA).

Here’s the press release from Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) back in mid-December when the initial decision came (there is a backgrounder and the actual court decision document):

Decisive killer whale court win offers hope for at-risk species

In that decision Justice Russell declared that:

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans erred in law in determining that the critical habitat of the Resident Killer Whales was already legally protected by existing laws of Canada; … Ministerial discretion does not legally protect critical habitat within the meaning of section 58 of SARA, and it was unlawful for the Minister to have cited discretionary provisions of the Fisheries Act in the Protection Statement.

And here’s a recent press release (Jan. 17, 2011) describing how DFO is going to fight this decision:

DFO seeks to undo important precedent for at-risk species

The Department of Fisheries and Ocean suggests that the Fisheries Act, its yearly Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs), and its Minister’s discretionary decision-making — are all enough to protect the Orcas, which for a good chunk of the year have close to 90% of their diet comprised of Fraser River bound Chinook salmon. (see post from last year Cull the endangered Orcas…? for scientific article and media stories)

Those Chinook are largely on an extinction tract in many parts of the Fraser watershed, and serious downward spirals in other parts of the watershed.

Who is catching the bulk of those Chinook these days? — the recreational-sport fishery.

The Department’s protection (and rebuilding) of Fraser Chinook populations… is failing at so many levels.

And yet, DFO would rather spend money fighting court cases — as opposed to actually take real measures to protect Fraser Chinook and in turn endangered resident Orcas (now numbering less than 300).

This makes sense…

3 thoughts on “wow, shocking… Commission extension & DFO fighting court cases rather than protecting salmon

  1. tlellami

    You are more effective at distributing Cohen related news than any other outlet, as salmonguy.org is where I learned about the extension and budget increase. I suppose that means your website is effective, and current, and I thank you for that.

    I don’t know that I have a problem with an extension and a budget increase. I’ve been under the impression since the commission started that Cohen wants this to be the last inquiry for quite some time – so why not take the time and money you need to really dig into what is a VERY complex problem, and to try to actually deliver acceptable and well-supported recommendations? Of course, all this time and money will be for not if DFO doesn’t act on anything that comes out of the commission…

    As far as dealing with the treaty issue, it’s one more year on top of the 100 years these dealings have been going on. Disappointing, I’m sure for the FN’s but really it’s a drop in the bucket. Again, if this one year delay can help in negotiations then perhaps we can all come out on top.

    Poor whales.

    Thanks salmonguy,

    Tlellami.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    thanks Tlellami,
    on one hand (right or left… I’m not sure) I agree with the sentiment of get the damn thing right, and enforce recommendations… unfortunately, acting on any recommendations won’t be up to Justice Cohen. it’ll be up to DFO; and as one can see from the SARA-listed Orca issue (and aquaculture, and.. and.. and…) the Department isn’t doing too well on a few issues.

    The issue with the Orcas and Chinook, is so much more than just the whales. DFO is not meeting their obligation to ensure that First Nation food, social and ceremonial needs are met — which is supposed to happen after conservation needs are met (which includes the whales) — and prior to opening sport or commercial fisheries. (I plan to type another post on this).

    The other issue here is Treaty issues. DFO is not meeting their Treaty obligations (e.g. Tsawwassen) and is, yet, still opening sport fisheries. The Fisheries Minister yanked the fisheries chapters out of Treaty negotiations while the Cohen Commission is ongoing. Now those will be delayed another year…

    Yet, there is precedent in Commissions taking a hard stand on issues like this. For example, the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline review of a few decades ago (Justice Berger as the Commissioner) said that the proposed pipeline should not go ahead with so many treaty rights and aboriginal rights and title outstanding. There were other issues, but in many ways that issue was enough to delay any development for decades while negotiations were ongoing.

    I’m not so sure anything ground-breaking will come out of the Commission — but still small shreds of hopeful thoughts. The Commission to end all Commissions? highly, highly doubtful. The Department of Fisheries is such an unwieldy, flawed institution with too many egos, too many disputed territories and towers, and far too much discretionary decision-making for politicians.

    In terms of assisting a stalled Treaty process — going to be pretty tough to negotiate fisheries chapters in salmon-dependent communities if salmon populations continue to decline (and First Nation communities expand in size), especially Chinook and sockeye, the key food species as one moves inland on the Fraser and other watersheds.
    thanks again for the comments, and i’ll try and stay somewhat current.

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