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Morton finishes four-day paddle down Fraser as sockeye inquiry begins

Greeted by Squamish Chief Bill Williams, 100 supporters and heavy rains, Alexandra Morton and 80 others docked their canoes at Vanier Park this morning after four days of paddling down the Fraser River.

The biologist and activist left Hope, B.C., four days ago to raise awareness about salmon farming in time for the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon, which begins today.

Morton and fellow activists blame fish farms for the decline of the sockeye salmon over the last 18 years. "We, the indigenous and neo-indigenous people of British Columbia, have the right to keep wild salmon, to protect our communities and to look out for our future," she wrote on her blog.

Fellow paddler Gail Lotenberg, from Bowen Island, agrees. "The fish farms are a chemical warfare against the salmon, she says. We want the fish-farm industry to release their disease data for the last 10 years."

Those data are kept confidential by the industry but, according to Lotenberg, 21 of them released their data for the last five years since the beginning of their journey.

The Cohen Commission, led by Judge Bruce Cohen, is the second commission of its kind in almost 30 years to focus on B.C.'s salmon. It could be compared to the Gomery Commission, held in 2004. Its role is to "to investigate and report on the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River." Based on its findings, the commission will make recommendations for improving the future sustainability of the sockeye salmon fishery on the Fraser. Despite a massive return this year, only 1.7 million Sockeye salmon returned to the Fraser last year, prompting fears of a collapse. Eleven million were expected.

The first day of the commission is focusing on the life cycle of the Fraser River sockeye.

But the highlight of the day should be in the streets. A "Justice for Wild Salmon," rally organized by the Wilderness Committee and, is happening at noon at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Hundreds of people from across the province are expected.

--Francis Plourde is a Vancouver freelance journalist and occasional contributor to The Tyee.

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