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Salmon inquiry hopes to be commission to end all commissions

Noting the more than 700 recommendations into the decline of the Fraser river sockeye generated by previous commissions, an interim report from the most recent commission stated its hope to be the last.

In “Fraser River Sockeye Salmon: Past Declines. Future Sustainability?” commissioner Bruce Cohen said he has reviewed these previous recommendations and the responses of the federal government and will use this information to probe causes for the sockeye’s decline during evidentiary hearings, which began this past week. All the evidence generated by the commission’s proceedings, including the recommendations and responses, will form the basis for the commissioner’s conclusions.

“In my opinion,” wrote Cohen, “this fair and reasonable approach should result in a set of findings and recommendations that, I trust, will end the cycle of reviewing the same issues over and over again.”

He also noted “An enormous amount of time and money has been invested in arriving at the recommendations contained in these previous reports, yet the decline in Fraser sockeye stocks continued through 2009.”

But he pointed out: “It is the first commission in three decades to have been granted authority under part one of the Inquiries Act, which authorizes me to summon witnesses to attend and give evidence under oath or affirmation and to produce documents relevant to the commission’s mandate. This commission is also unique in the degree to which it has sought input from 21 formally recognized participants (representing 53 individuals, groups, and organizations) who represent governmental, Aboriginal, commercial fishing, sport fishing, industrial, and environmental non-governmental interests.”

Referring to the anomalously large 2010 run, the report states that it is too early to tell whether the high production will be sustained into the future, but it is clear that the variability from 2009 to 2010 has important implications for the commission’s work.

“My mandate to make findings of fact regarding the causes for the decline of Fraser sockeye and to develop recommendations for improving the future sustainability of the fishery still remains, but that decline must now be understood and evaluated in the context of an unprecedented rebound in 2010,” wrote the commissioner.

According to the press release that announced the release of the report, the commission's terms of reference required the commissioner to submit this report setting out “his preliminary views on, and assessment of, any previous examinations, investigations or reports that he deemed relevant to the inquiry and the federal government’s responses to those examinations, investigations and reports.”

Evidentiary hearings began Monday, Oct. 25, and will continue to the spring of 2011.

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