“I thought the days of the Conservatives were over”

Ottawa has turned its back on salmon where they spawn and grow – in fresh water.

“For your discussion of wild salmon policy, Mr. Commissioner … decisions about weak stock management … trade-offs, and their societal impacts, I would very much like to talk about this sort of thing as we proceed”

– former deputy fisheries minister John Davis, Cohen Commission, 2011.

John Davis was alluding to a DFO decision not to restore Cultus Lake sockeye habitat. It didn’t ask for second opinions.

Last week, DFO didn’t talk to streamkeepers, staff, educational advisors, teachers, even MPs, before eliminating the multi-armed Salmon Enhancement Program (1970), intended to increase fish habitat and make the public stewards of salmon.

Ottawa has turned its back on salmon where they spawn and grow – in fresh water.

DFO’s resource restoration unit – technical support for countless groups like KEEPS and ARMS – is gone, leaving unattended 1,500 streams it helped restore over 17 years.

When I told local MP Dan Ruimy this, he was surprised. Last year, a salmon advisory committee he formed shared its knowledge with Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

“No one had a clue,” ZoAnn Morten, of the Pacific Stream Keepers, told me.

Restoration unit biologists and engineers “know the habitat, unique stocks and watersheds. It makes no sense to remove this knowledge.”

The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association was part of 1,500 projects. In a letter on June 5, its president asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and LeBlanc to rescind the restoration unit cut because it “has been able to work with cattle producers to help them protect agricultural lands and still achieve their goal of enhancing fish habitat.”

Maple Creek Stream Keepers president Sandy Budd is sick at heart.

“I thought the days of the Conservatives were over.”

They aren’t.

Last year, DFO approved rechanneling of Maple Creek, a stream that volunteers improved for coho. DFO didn’t consult streamkeepers, its community advisor, First Nations, or local residents.

The Sea to Stream Program (Salmonids in the Classroom) is also on the chopping block. Gone are eight contracted staff who deliver chum eggs to the 900 B.C. aquariums that 35,000 kids maintain.

Cost? About $400,000.

Value? Priceless.

Ross Davies of KEEPS works with 16 Maple Ridge teachers.

“Ottawa needs to understand how many people are affected by this,” he said.

“The [top managers] make the decisions,” a source told me. “They didn’t do their research, and didn’t consult. That program was so loved. Teachers saw the impact on students. You can’t expect anyone in government to care for something it knows nothing about.”

LeBlanc should have talked to Ben, a Grade 2 student I met at a stream, guarding a bucket containing chum fry. Facing him were 28 kids with plastic cups. Ben scooped one fish into each excited child’s cup.

They’d watched one-eyed eggs in aquarium gravel emerge as alevin carrying yellow yolk sacs under bodies half fish, half tadpole. Now they’d release fry at an event titled “Good-bye Chums.”

Ben told me of another miracle I wish LeBlanc heard before last week. He knew which fry was his by its markings. I watched skeptically as children set fry free with, “Good-bye, Silver Girl; careful out there, Batman; I love you … Elvis.”

At one Ruimy meeting, I asked Pt. Kells MP Ken Hardie to convey a message to LeBlanc. Hardy sat on his standing committee to make the Fish Act work again.

“Ask him,” I said, “to tell DFO not to approve disruptions of salmon streams without consulting people who look after them.”

Hardie said he did.

“What did he say?”

“Nothing, he just listened.”

DFO hasn’t listened to advice, anyhow. In 1997, an auditor general’s report told it to protect small stock streams as it did from 1947 to 1979. It hasn’t. The top managers aren’t interested.

Yet, 90 per cent of us in B.C., including Ben, think they should be.

You can’t expect government to care about something it knows nothing about.

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.