Friday, August 26, 2011

Cohen Commission Disease Hearings Underway

Yesterday marked day four in the Cohen commissions inquiry into the impact of disease on Fraser River sockeye. As expected there have been some fireworks, starting on Wednesday when DFO researcher Kristina Miller took the stand for questions related to her research on disease and prespawn mortality in Fraser Sockeye. Last winter Miller and colleagues published a paper in SCIENCE which exposed the role of a viral pathogen in high rates of prespawn mortality in Fraser Sockeye.

Since then, many have drawn connections between the persistent disease and the millions of salmon raised in net pens in BC's coastal waters. Miller has not been allowed to speak with the media and many have accused DFO of muzzling her to protect the fish farming industry. With the Cohen Commission finally turning its attention to the disease issue and aquaculture, the public is getting a glimpse into potential threat posed by fish farms and the diseases they harbor.

Alexandra Morton has been updating her blog daily with coverage from the hearings.

A few key developments from the last few days...

  • DFO doesn't appear to be taking the disease threat very seriously, and may actually be downplaying it in an attempt to limit public concern.
  • Miller has had problems getting agency approval to analyze the pathogen afflicting Georgia Basin salmonids.
  • Miller has thus far been unable to get approval or funding to test whether farmed salmon carry the same pathogen as Fraser Sockeye.
All this has huge implications for salmon not only in the Fraser but throughout the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound where populations have experienced a steady decline since the 1990's. That decline overlaps conspicuously with the expansion of fish farming in the region. Given the impact that salmon farms are known to have to wild salmon populations it is critical that we understand the degree to which disease is present in populations throughout the region and to what degree fish farms are involved.

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