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Five Ways the Government Can Save Our Fisheries

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THE HEALTH AND PROSPERITY OF CANADA'S FISHERIES CONCERN US ALL
Robert Chisholm (Dartmouth - Cole Harbour)

Canada's fisheries are a multi-billion dollar industry, a major source of food, and a key component of our environment. The bounty of fin fish and shell fish harvested by Canadians each year is an irreplaceable renewable natural resource.

Around the world fish can ensure food security as a renewable source of healthy, high-protein food. In Canada, if our fisheries are managed successfully, they promise to be a never-ending source of jobs, wealth-creation, and economic security for many of our coastal and rural communities.

Not only are fisheries a key source of food and jobs, they are an integral part of our entire ecosystem. If that system is protected, then so are our fisheries. But if the ecosystem is jeopardized by cuts to habitat protection, research, and enforcement, then our fisheries are in great danger.

Of course, even a passing knowledge of the Canadian fisheries over the last three decades makes it obvious they have not been well-managed by successive federal governments.

On the East Coast, the devastating effects of the collapse of the cod stocks are still being felt 20 years later. To this day, there is little sign of recovery. Most disappointingly, it has become clear that the lessons that should have been learned in the wake of this massive failure have been ignored by the federal government.

It's worth noting that Stephen Harper's government shares responsibility for this failure with Conservative and Liberal governments of the past, governments that never missed an opportunity to declare their love and respect for our fisheries, only to ignore their own advice and repeat the same devastating mistakes.

Fortunately, the Conservatives have another opportunity to start getting things right.

Last week, The Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River released its Final Report. Established in 2009, after the sockeye salmon fishery harvested from the Fraser River saw its lowest returns in more than 60 years, the Commission of Inquiry found that there has been a "steady and profound decline" since the early 1990s.

Over two and a half years, the Commission held 10 public forums and 128 days of evidentiary hearings. They received 2145 exhibits and heard from 179 witnesses. They obtained over a half a million documents from the government, and thousands more from participating groups and members of the public.

There is no question Bruce Cohen and his staff should be commended for their strong work and their commitment for consultation and engagement. Their final report is more than 1000 pages and it details specific conclusions and makes 75 recommendations the government must accept and act upon immediately.

Although a wide variety of issues are covered, the 75 recommendations can be summarized into five key points:

1) The Minister must accept full responsibility for conservation, fisheries management, and fish habitat protection.

2) The Department of Fisheries and Oceans' (DFO) core mandate is to conserve wild fish. It must act accordingly.

3) Research and monitoring, habitat protection, and policy enforcement are key activities for DFO and, to be successful, must be expanded and strengthened.

4) Climate change will continue to have a major impact on our fisheries and must be addressed.

5) The Omnibus Bill C-38 passed in the spring, moved DFO in the wrong direction. Weakening habitat protection and environmental oversight are exactly the opposite of what needs to be done to protect our fisheries.

The Cohen Commission was clear about what must be done; unfortunately, in many cases, the Conservatives' actions are in direct contradiction of the recommendations.

Canadians demand and deserve healthy, sustainable, and prosperous fisheries to pass along to the next generation and this new report tells us how to achieve those goals.

The Prime Minister and the Fisheries Minister must now answer some important questions. What will they do? Will they listen? Will they recognize what's at stake? Will they undo the damage already done? Or will they bury this report and continue to cut the science that underpins our ability to manage this precious resource?

If you care about Canada's fisheries, now is the time to let them know. Tell Conservative MPs that you want the Cohen Report's recommendations accepted immediately.

If the government follows through with them, it will be a huge step forward in saving one of our most precious resources -- our fisheries -- for ourselves and for generations to come.