Salmon farms near Campbell River capped for 7 years

Six months after the release of the Cohen Commission's final report on the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon, the B.C. government says it accepts the intent of a number of the report's recommendations, including putting a cap on future open-net fish farms along a critical migration route.

In October, Justice Bruce Cohen suggested a freeze on new open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, near Campbell River, until September 2020.

Cohen said dozens of salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to aggravate diseases endemic to the wild fish.

Cohen's 1,000-page report said a string of cumulative factors likely played a role into why nearly 10 million salmon failed to return to spawn in 2009. He laid out 75 recommendations regarding the policies and practices for both the federal and provincial governments.

On Friday, the B.C. government said it would accept, or at least accept the intent, of eight recommendations — including a cap on the open-net farms — from the Cohen Commission that fell under provincial jurisdiction.

The government said it has "no intention of issuing any further or expanded tenures for net-pen salmon farms in the Discovery Islands until at least September 30, 2020." But it will continue to consider applications to amend existing boundaries of current open-net salmon farms for reasons other than increasing production, it said.

B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick says he agrees with the Cohen's finding that a moratorium on new fish farms in the Discovery Islands will help determine whether fish farms are impacting wild salmon.

"He basically says we should use the precautionary principle and what we're doing today as a government is agreeing with him," Letnick said.

But NDP environment critic Rob Fleming said he was disappointed with Friday's news.

"They've been missing in action on this file for so long," Fleming said.

"To say on a Friday afternoon, six months after Justice Cohen delivered his report, that they deign to agree with his recommendations, just shows that they have not paid considerable attention to this."

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