VANCOUVER - A report into the 2009 collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run will be made public this week after an inquiry took two years to study what happened, but a debate about what happens next has already started.
Justice Bruce Cohen, of B.C.'s Supreme Court, handed his report to the federal government Monday, sparking an exchange in the House of Commons between the NDP and Conservatives.
"Canadians want to know, will the government commit today to implement the recommendations in this report?" asked Fin Donnelly, MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam.
Randy Kamp, parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries and oceans, did not answer the question directly, saying instead the government recognizes the economic and cultural significance of salmon to the province.
"In fact, that is why we established the Cohen Commission after unexpectedly low returns of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River in 2009," said Kamp.
Donnelly also questioned why the government cut spending on enforcement and science at Fisheries and Oceans and changed the Fisheries Act before Cohen had submitted his findings.
"We put in place the Cohen Commission in order to learn some things," replied Kamp.
"That is why we will be reading it, as I encourage the member to do, when it is tabled in the House of Commons on Wednesday."
The Fisheries Department had earlier refused to say whether or when the report would be made public.
To discuss his findings, Cohen will hold a news conference in Vancouver Wednesday afternoon.
The inquiry examined why millions of sockeye salmon vanished in 2009 from one of British Columbia's most prized fisheries. Just 1.4 million sockeye showed up in B.C.'s rivers and streams in a run that was anticipated to be around 10 million.
The offspring of those salmon are expected to return to the Fraser River during the summer of 2013.
Cohen listened to 160 witnesses and compiled 14,000 pages of transcripts and 2,100 exhibits.
Fisheries advocates are predicting the report will come down hard on the way the Fisheries Department manages the resource.
The inquiry began in August 2010 and ended in December 2011, and during the course of its hearings, the commission tackled some 40 themes, ranging from aboriginal fishing to aquaculture, commercial fishing to disease, habitat management and enforcement to predation.
Cohen's report, which must be submitted in both official languages, originally faced a deadline of May 1, 2011, but that deadline was extended to June 30, 2012, Sept. 30, 2012, and then Oct. 29, 2012.