It may seem like semantics, but Terry Teegee is pleased the Cohen Commission emphasized the importance of fish rather than fisheries.
The chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council said the more than 1,000-page report released Wednesday into the fate of the Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks struck the right notes in its recommendations and in its tone.
"That's a thing that really should be said a lot more, don't manage for the fishery you should be managing for the actual fish," Teegee said.
The commission was headed by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen and appointed by the federal government in 2009 after a shockingly low annual run. Although Cohen didn't identify a single cause for the drop in the stocks, he did find a list of contributing factors ranging from the rising temperatures in the river and the prevalence of fish farms.
Teegee seized on the latter cause and said he's pleased that Cohen has recommended a freeze on certain types of fish farming, pending further scientific investigation.
"I think that's what we've always been saying as advocates for fish, how are [these fish farms] affecting things in the big picture," he said.
The provincial government is still reviewing the document and Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said in a news release that he'd be able to comment on the substance of the report at a later date.
Marine environmental policy consultant Gerald Graham said he wasn't a fan of the idea of a judicial inquiry into the salmon stocks, but has been pleasantly surprised with what he read.
"It turns out it's been a very long and expensive process," he said in a phone interview from Victoria. "I won't speculate as to whether the taxpayer got their money's worth, but I think the findings of the report and the recommendations are very reasoned and reasonable."
Graham said the 75 recommendations can't hurt, but suggested that the variation in the salmon stocks can be a mysterious thing.
"Is it possible when all is said and done, these fluctuations are all part of a natural cycle? We don't really know and we never will know why they go up and down, aside from the contributing factors that Cohen mentions," Graham said, pointing to the great run of salmon in 2010, the year after the commission was appointed.
Both Teegee and Graham are pleased that Cohen singled out recent legislative changes to the Fisheries Act for criticism. Teegee said it justified concerns about the off loading of environmental assessments to provinces, while Graham wondered why the federal government would appoint an inquiry and then go ahead and change the law before the final report was released.
Graham was also happy the Cohen took aim at the political side of the government rather than the scientists working for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
"I know a lot of these people who work in fisheries science and fisheries management, and they're not to blame," he said. "They've been tarred and feathered, they've been inadequately funded, it's an inexact science and the government needs to take more of a serious attitude to the department."
The report also recommended implementing existing policies, like the 2005 wild salmon policy which Teegee supports. He said making sure there are enough fish is critical for his people.
"Our culture and heritage is completely dependent on salmon coming up this way," he said. "We want to see the government commit to saving our salmon."
With the report now public it's up to the federal government to act and Teegee hopes they heed the advice of Cohen and move quickly.
"[Cohen] has tight mandates, he's putting tight timelines on this," he said. "He wants things starting in 2013, which is a couple of months away."