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Cohen Commission hearings delayed over document hold up

The evidentiary hearings for a federal inquiry into declining Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks have been delayed for at least one month because the federal government has yet to disclose key documents to the commission council.

The hearings for the Cohen Commission were originally slated to start September 7, but a spokesperson for the inquiry said the date has been pushed back to October 25.

"We need to review tens of thousands of documents, and the federal government is disclosing those to us, but we don't have all the documents yet," said Carla Shore, director of communications for the inquiry.

"For example, we're waiting for over 200,000 emails that we've identified need to be disclosed, and that's coming, but it'll probably take several months for the government to review and disclose them."

The commission's opening hearings took place June 15 and June 16.

Public forums for the inquiry will be held in a variety of locations throughout the province during September. A schedule for the forums is forthcoming.

"This is an incredibly complex issue," Shore said. "There are so many different factors that we need to look at, and so many documents that need to be reviewed, both from the government and participants."

"It's an enormous process, and we have a very ambitious schedule."

Meanwhile, Brian Riddell, president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, resigned from the inquiry's scientific advisory panel this week to serve as a witness instead.

"At this point, he has been identified as someone we will likely call as a witness, and that's inconsistent with being on our panel," said Shore.

While Shore says it's not a question of replacing Riddell, the commission is looking into adding a panelist that has some "traditional fisheries ecology experience."

"When we held the opening hearings in June, some of the participants, notably First Nations groups, suggested to us that it might be useful to bring in someone to our science advisors that has [that experience], so we're investigating that right now," Shore said.

Robyn Smith is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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