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Morton previews Cohen Commission sessions on aquaculture, diseases

Biologist and wild-salmon advocate Alexandra Morton has published a preview of next week's hearings at the Cohen Commission, which may need a change of venue to accommodate everyone who wants to attend.

In an August 18 email to her followers, Morton wrote:

The aquaculture hearings begin on Monday, August 22, with hearings on disease. The legal teams have submitted the material they would like question the witnesses with. Thus we have tipped our hands, we know what we are up against. Justice Cohen gets to decide whether documents will be admitted into evidence. He will decide what the witnesses need to answer to.

On the first panel are four experts in salmon disease.

Dr. Stewart Johnson, Head of Aquatic Animal Health, DFO, is responsible for understanding the health of the Fraser sockeye.

Dr. Michael Kent is a professor at Oregon State University, who used to work for DFO. During that time he wrote several scientific papers on Salmon Leukemia. Salmon Leukemia has two other names - Plasmacytoid Leukemia and Marine Anemia. We have already seen evidence that Dr. Miller, the scientist apparently muzzled by the Privy Council, suspected this disease was responsible for the 18-year decline and crash of the Fraser sockeye. Plasmacytoid Leukemia arrived on the Fraser sockeye migration route in the early 1990s in Chinook salmon farms. It killed so many farm salmon it threatened the survival of the smaller companies that were operating at that time. Kent and others tried to figure out what it was. They put it through screens, measured its buoyancy, tested its ability to infect, and arrived at the conclusion that it must be a virus. it did infect sockeye and to a lesser extent Atlantic salmon. For some reason they never completed this work, leaving this disease difficult to diagnose.

Dr. Christine MacWilliams is a Fish Health vet for DFO's Salmon Enhancement Program.

Dr. Craig Stephens is Director at the Centre for Coastal Health & Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Co-incidentally he did his PhD Thesis on Plasmacytoid Leukemia! In a paper he coauthored in 1995 he wrote:

•"Evidence supporting the hypothesis that marine anemia is a spreading, infectious neoplastic [cell proliferating] disease could have profound regulatory effects on the salmon farming industry" Stephens and Ribble (1995). With Dr. Kent he wrote that the environmental conditions created by intensive aquaculture may have facilitated the emergence of marine anemia. (Stephen, Ribble and Kent, 1996).

•In a statement in his thesis at the U of Saskatchewan 1995 he wrote: we should be in "...preparation for the possibility of marine anemia becoming a problem for other farmed and wild species."

•Dr. Stephens did publish on a method of diagnosing Salmon Leukemia by examining the kidney. This has been helpful to the salmon farming industry.

Meanwhile, the commission's senior counsel, Brian Wallace, has emailed participants in the hearing to alert them to possible seating problems next week:

Interest is being generated in the commission's hearings as they near their conclusion. The commission is taking steps to ensure that participants with standing have access to seating in the event audience numbers exceed the capacity of the courtroom.

Beginning on Monday, August 22, a block of 30 seats in the public gallery will be allocated to participants with standing for the topic for each day's hearing. Three seats will be reserved for each such participant group and attendees from such a participant group will be asked to advise the commissionaire monitoring the reserved seating of their participant group.

If more than three attendees from a participant group ask for reserved seating, the fourth or more persons will have to access general public seating. If not all allocated seats are not taken by the time the hearing starts, the seats will be made available to other participants with standing for the topic, then to other participants and then to the public. This process will be repeated for each morning and afternoon hearing session.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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