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Fraser River sockeye certified sustainable

An independent adjudicator has upheld an assessment of the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery, clearing the way for the fishery to be certified as "sustainable" by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council.

Three British Columbia environmental groups in February filed an objection to certification for the fishery. The groups - the David Suzuki Foundation, Skeena Wild Conservation Trust and Watershed Watch Salmon Society - also had concerns about the health of three other B.C. salmon fisheries involved in the process, but focused their objection on the Fraser River fishery as they believed it to be the most vulnerable. Commercial and sport salmon fisheries on the Fraser River have been curtailed in recent years as a result of lower-than expected returns.

The three other B.C. salmon fisheries were certified by the MSC earlier this month.

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Under the MSC process, third-party certifiers review fisheries to determine if they are "sustainable." Since the group was founded in 1997, it has granted its eco label to 89 fisheries around the world. An additional 120 fisheries are in assessment.

If an objection is filed, an independent adjudicator reviews the process and checks for errors made by the certifier - but does not reassess the fishery.

The pending Fraser Certification includes 17 conditions that must be achieved by the fishery within specified time frames, including recovery action plans for Cultus and Sakinaw sockeye and evidence that First Nation issues are being addressed.

The Cohen Commission, appointed last year, is studying the decline of sockeye runs on the Fraser River. Evidentiary hearings are scheduled to begin in September.

"For this fishery, there is uncertainty in the scientific community as to the reasons for low sockeye returns," the MSC said Monday.

"However, there is general agreement that commercial fishing pressure is not the cause for these declines since breeding stock levels were high in the years that spawned the fish now returning in low numbers [four years previous]"

The MSC said the 600-page certifier's report produced as part of the process is available to the federal commission.

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- Wendy Stueck

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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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