The lead author of a key science review for the Cohen Commission has had some of his conclusions – and even his motives – questioned during cross-examination.
David Marmorek, president of ESSA Technologies Ltd., was accused of being "biased" because his company consults on climate-change adaptation, and his report concludes that climate change is one of the key stressors in the life cycle of sockeye salmon.
Mr. Marmorek, who presented his findings Monday, analyzed the results of 11 scientific papers that British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen had ordered in his inquiry into the decline of Fraser River sockeye.
Mr. Marmorek's report concluded that climate change, and oceanic conditions along the coastal migration route of young salmon, are the most likely causes of decline. But he said not enough information exists to say what has been killing the salmon. He identified key data gaps and called for research and monitoring activities to find the missing pieces of the puzzle.
But Phil Eidsvik, who is representing the Southern Area E Gillnetters Association and BC Fisheries Survival Coalition, challenged Mr. Marmorek's motives, saying he had noted on the ESSA Technologies website that the company consults on climate-change adaptation.
Mr. Eidsvik, the only non-lawyer representing participants at the hearings, suggested that Mr. Marmorek was "biased" because his company could bid on contracts for the research his report had recommended.
But Mr. Marmorek said that would be like saying a carpenter who put his foot through a rotten floorboard was just looking for work. He said no link could be made between his company's climate-change work and his evaluation of the science studies done for Judge Cohen.
"In your view [there is no link] but to a fisherman on the dock it might not be [so clear]" Mr. Eidsvik said.
Mr. Eidsvik also asked if ESSA had worked in the past for the Tsawwassen First Nation, which is one of the aboriginal groups participating in the hearings.
Mr. Marmorek confirmed his firm had done work for the band, but rejected the suggestion that that somehow compromised his objectivity. "Everything we do, we try to do to the highest standards of neutrality," he said.
Tim Leadem, a lawyer appearing for the Conservation Coalition, asked Mr. Marmorek why his report didn't reach firm conclusions about the impact of fish farms on wild salmon.
Mr. Leadem said enough information is known to suggest there is some negative impact, and he said Mr. Marmorek should have called for a precautionary approach, such as limiting the number and location of farms.
But Mr. Marmorek said two scientists who had studied aquaculture for Judge Cohen had come back with directly opposing views. One thought farms had no impact on wild salmon and the other felt they did. And both scientists, he said, had been unable to reach conclusions on whether farms spread disease to wild stocks, because there is no hard data available.
"Right now we have disease information within the fish farms … but we don't actually know how much exposure there has been [to wild stocks]" he said.
Mr. Marmorek said before any decisions are made about the future of fish farms, more data need to be gathered. He agreed with Mr. Leadem's suggestion that the fish farm disease issue should be investigated quickly.
The Cohen Commission is heading into its final days and will conclude its evidentiary hearings next week with a panel of senior Department of Fisheries officials, including deputy minister Claire Dansereau and assistant deputy David Bevan.