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Decision coming on sustainability designation for Fraser sockeye fishery

An independent adjudicator is scheduled to decide by July 10 whether B.C.'s Fraser River sockeye fishery meets the standards of a "sustainably managed fishery" set by the Marine Stewardship Council.

The London-based MSC had been poised to grant the label, used around the world, to the Fraser River sockeye fishery earlier this year but delayed that decision after three environmental groups registered a formal objection to the process.

Those groups now hope the adjudicator will decide that there are enough problems with the certification to send it back for review.

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"We think they made some serious factual errors on their assessment and they passed the fishery on some pass-or-fail scores that they should have failed them on," Watershed Watch spokesman Aaron Hill said on Tuesday. "So we think there is a good chance of the adjudicator asking the certifier to reconsider those decisions."

Under the MSC process, a third-party certifier reviews a fishery to determine whether it meets MSC standards concerning the status of fish stocks, the impact of a fishery on its marine ecosystem and the management system that oversees the fishery.

Three other B.C. sockeye fisheries - from Barkley Sound, Skeena River and Nass River - were granted MSC certification on July 2.

Conservation groups have concerns about the three other sockeye fisheries, but focused their opposition on the Fraser River fishery because it is considered to be the most unhealthy.

It was closed for a third year in a row last summer when the numbers of fish returning to the river to spawn fell millions short of pre-season estimates. The Cohen Commission, headed by BC Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen, was established last year to study the decline. Evidentiary hearings are scheduled to begin in September and to investigate whether factors including environment, fish farms, predators and water temperatures have played a role in the decline.

Most of B.C.'s sockeye is exported as frozen or canned product, with about 10 per cent sold as fresh.

Kerry Coughlin, regional director, Americas, with the MSC, said certification includes "chain-of-custody" requirements that track fish as they move from the water to boats to processing plants and ultimately to market.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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