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Province won't have to produce paper records in Cohen inquiry

A B.C. salmon farm.

Globe files./Globe files.

The government of British Columbia has been told it does not have to produce for the Cohen Commission paper records related to the health of farmed salmon.

In a ruling released Friday, Bruce Cohen, who is heading the federal inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon populations, said it doesn't appear the old, paper records will add much to the information that is already available in electronic files. And he was reluctant to engage in a document production exercise that would take about six weeks and might cause delays of science reports on fish health that are pending.

The ruling appears to end a showdown at the Cohen Commission between the provincial government and a coalition of conservation groups that had been seeking both the electronic files, and the original paper documents the digital records were based on.

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The province had earlier been ordered to produce fish health records for 120 salmon farms for the period 2000-2010. But Mr. Cohen was asked to clarify the order, when the government made a submission stating that the electronic records do not identify specifically which farms, fish necropsy samples were taken from.

Dr. Gary Marty, a fish pathologist with the Animal Health Centre, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, stated in an affidavit that the province has 817 paper records for 2000 to 2002, and 1,116 paper records for 2003.

He said a sample of paper records he examined "do contain more details about clinical history and diagnostic results, but none of the hard copies contain any information about farm of origin."

The province argued that producing the old, paper files would be time consuming and it generally wouldn't be helpful to the Commission.

Mr. Cohen agreed.

"I am not persuaded that the production of the Province's paper records would materially advance my consideration of the issues related to fish farms and their impact, if any, on Fraser River sockeye," he stated in his ruling. " Moreover, I am mindful of the fact that requiring the production of the paper records would delay the work of the researchers contracted by the commission to prepare their reports on the topic of aquaculture. "

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association and the federal government had both supported the B.C. government in its submission. But a group of conservation organizations, appearing at the Cohen Commission as the Aquaculture Coalition, had objected to the proposal, arguing that the paper records could add valuable information.

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In an affidavit, Stan Proboszcz, a fisheries biologist with Watershed Watch Salmon Society, stated he had reviewed some of the paper fish necropsy reports and they "contained significantly more information related to fish health than their electronic counterparts."

In his ruling, however, Mr. Cohen said the Aquaculture Coalition had not provided evidence "on why the additional information contained in the paper records is necessary, or how the information would enhance the anticipated scientific evidence."

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