I'd like to start out by saying thank you very much for inviting the department to be here today.
My colleague Rebecca Reid has had a little delay down in security, so she'll be joining us fairly shortly.
We have a number of introductory remarks to make, and as you've already pointed out, Sylvie Lapointe, who is the assistant deputy minister for fisheries management is with us as well.
It is, as I say, quite a pleasure for us to be here. As you know, the Cohen commission took more than three years to develop quite a comprehensive report into the causes of the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon, back in 2009. As you know, it found that, despite the presence of smoked salmon, there's no smoking gun with respect to the causes of the decline. A number of factors have in fact been identified as contributing to the potential decline of sockeye salmon.
In response to the complex picture that emerged after reviewing thousands of documents and hearing from nearly 200 witnesses and experts, Justice Cohen made 75 recommendations, which covered quite a broad range of issues, as you know. He particularly touched on science, aquaculture, fisheries management, habitat protection, and then, of course, wild salmon policy.
Most of the recommendations pertained to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but about 15 of them pertained to other departments or to the Government of British Columbia.
Since the Cohen commission report was released in 2012, these recommendations have in large measure guided our activities and interactions on matters related to the management of the Fraser River salmon.
Since it was released in 2012, we've been working on implementing the elements of the report in an integrated manner. In this way, we're able to cut across the organization and ensure that the right staff are involved and included. While ensuring attention to Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks, we've also broadened our response to look at all wild Pacific salmon.
In August of last year, the honourable Minister LeBlanc announced that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had implemented over 30 of the report's recommendations in collaboration with the Government of British Columbia, Environment and Climate Change Canada, indigenous people, and a variety of interest groups.
Today I would like to highlight some of the department's current activities as well as our plans to implement other measures. To leave committee members enough time for questions, I will focus on the progress made on a number of the key themes addressed in the Cohen commission report, rather than going through the 75 recommendations one by one.
Of the 75 recommendations contained in the final report, 39 are being delivered by our science branch, which I am part of. The Cohen recommendations that fall in this theme relate to fish health, stock assessment, climate change, and a variety of other science topics. Science is very much a core component of the department, and it is an integral component of sustainably managing Pacific salmon and, for that matter, all of our fishery.
As members of this committee will know, $41.5 million annually for over five years has been recently invested in aquatic sciences, as announced in budget 2016. It's truly an historic investment. It's the largest investment in ocean science and freshwater aquatic biology in a generation. These resources are allowing the department's ocean and freshwater science capacity to grow substantially. We've now hired approximately 135 new scientists. I spoke to the committee about these people coming when I was here about a year ago; now they're here. Oceanographers and other highly skilled scientific staff are being hired right across the country. Approximately 29 of those are located in British Columbia, and a couple are in Yukon.
These new resources will increase the science capacity to address quite a number of the Cohen recommendations. For example, to respond to recommendations on Pacific salmon fish health, key action already under way is scientific research about whether farms are impacting wild salmon.
We've launched scientific studies to fill knowledge gaps, to inform standards and operational requirements, and to guide a variety of practices at hatcheries, as well as adjusting requirements on where salmon farms can be located.
Many of you will know that the Prime Minister, in November of last year, announced a $1.5-billion oceans protection plan, which has now, as you've pointed out, been added to my title, which is also good. It is being used to support the preservation and restoration of vulnerable marine ecosystems, many of which are in British Columbia and will be a target of support from the oceans protection plan.
Funding will be used to establish coastal zone management plans and to identify coastal restoration priorities. Restoration projects will engage indigenous people and communities, as well as a variety of environmental organizations and others with an interest in habitat conservation.
The Cohen report also makes a number of recommendations related specifically to habitat protection. When my minister, the Honourable Minister Leblanc, appeared at this committee to discuss main estimates a few weeks ago, he spoke of the urgency to make rapid progress on the review of the Fisheries Act.
A response to the recommendations made by this committee in your report, “Review of Changes made in 2012 to the Fisheries Act”, must be provided no later than June 30, and we're working to provide that response as quickly as possible.
The recommendations made by this committee are highly relevant in refining how we respond to those made by Justice Cohen.
Given the imminent timing of the release of the response to your broader report, I'd like to suggest that the committee might wish to hold discussion of the Cohen habitat recommendations until you also have our response to your report, if that meets your indulgence, as it will allow for a more comprehensive discussion of those aspects of the Cohen report.
An important theme in the Cohen report relates to the implementation of Canada's policy for the conservation of wild Pacific salmon. Last August, the minister announced that more work on a detailed wild salmon policy implementation plan would begin, starting with consultations with first nations, key stakeholders, and the general public in the fall of 2016.
I am pleased to say that over the last several months the team leading this work under Rebecca's leadership has travelled across B.C., as well as to Whitehorse, to meet with first nations and to hold public open houses to solicit input and feedback on the process and the content that should be included in the development of a detailed five-year wild Pacific salmon implementation plan. There was lots of interest in these consultations, and we received a large amount of quite significant feedback.
As a next step, we will be working with key partners, particularly but not only indigenous groups, to develop a first draft of an evergreen implementation plan that's aligned with departmental programs; is pragmatic in terms of costs and time frames; is clear about DFO's commitments and accountabilities; and is focused on better collaboration with first nations, with partners, and with stakeholders more generally to implement the policy. The intent is to have an initial draft of this implementation plan ready to embark on further broad consultations throughout the fall of 2017.
Much as Justice Cohen did not find a smoking gun to explain the two-decade decline in salmon returns, our response to his recommendations can't be defined in a single response. I think we all would like a nice, easy, simple solution where we just do one thing and the salmon recovers. That's simply not possible.
Instead, our approach has been formulated in a much more integrated manner that includes more science, better fisheries management and habitat protection decisions, and improved relations with indigenous communities, industry, conservation groups, and a variety of other players in wild salmon protection and recovery.
Another key point that has been made clear during our recent consultations is that the work has not been done, nor can it be done, by the department alone. In some cases, Justice Cohen has directed or specifically referred to other agencies in his recommendations, such as, of course, critically, the Province of British Columbia, as well as our colleagues in Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the suite of other stakeholders that I've mentioned before.
Clearly this must be truly un projet associé. We must work together to drive this process. Successful implementation of the policy will only be achieved if we do so together.
While not all the commission's recommendations were directed at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as I've mentioned, we're certainly committed to working with our partners in a variety of contexts.
I would reiterate the department's commitment to sustaining and restoring Pacific salmon—Fraser River sockeye certainly, but Pacific salmon species more generally. It's not just about any one particular component or species of that broad suite. It's a long-term but necessary investment in renewing our marine natural capital and supporting conservation of ecosystems in a truly balanced way.
To support and track this effort, and in the spirit of transparency, we will be publishing another status report on these plans as we move forward, particularly highlighting the work that's been done with respect to each of the recommendations and the implementation of the policy more generally.
I focused these remarks on several of the significant recommendations. By all means, we're more than happy to take questions on any or all of them at any level of detail you may wish to go to.
We would like to just thank you once more for the time for being here today.
Rebecca, do you want to add anything?