Jack Emberly.

Jack Emberly.

Along the Fraser: A flawed made-in-B.C.-plan for wild salmon

‘The greatest value B.C. places on wild salmon is cultural.’

In June 2018, Premier John Horgan appointed 14 folks – with a range of expertise – to the Wild Salmon Advisory Council, a B.C. strategy to restore salmon.

DFO can’t do it alone.

One officer I spoke to recently said there are 400 daily calls to the complaint hotline; responding to all takes time. Tell that to streamkeepers in Burnaby, Langley, Abbotsford, and Maple Ridge, and Port Coquitlam, who failed to get DFO response to fish kills and damage to habitat.

Recently, under DFOs watch, landowners have cleared Fraser River riparian area on Herrling Island near Chilliwack, spawning grounds for sturgeon.

What is council’s solution?

In a letter to Horgan, Aaron Hill of Watershed Watch Salmon Society, writes: “We have several concerns with this council’s make-up, recommendations, the entire process, which excludes conservation groups, scientists, Interior communities, and ignores threats like salmon farms, over-fishing and climate change, while proposing disastrous ideas like industrial scale hatcheries.”

To gather public input, the advisory council has held seven meetings, six on the coast. Attending one in Prince Rupert would be a three-hour-drive on icy roads for Shannon McPhail, of the Skeena Watershed Coalition. Yet, she says, “100 per cent of fish they’re talking about are born inland, yet there weren’t any inland conversations.”

On Sept. 28, WWSS, SkeenaWild Conservation, and Raincoast Conservation submitted suggestions to the council, only to be told its options report had been finalized.

This was “a bewildering breach of the process described on the government website,” says Hill.

Was the council’s aim “to minimize involvement by citizens, conservation groups and scientists?”

Undaunted, Hill emailed the council on Jan. 11, repeating concerns with “the process of developing a B.C. strategy.”

It’s framework, he says, “is biased toward revitalizing wild salmon fisheries rather than wild salmon, with no mention of the non-consumptive economic benefits associated with tourism.”

Why not? asks Hill.

“The greatest value B.C. places on wild salmon is cultural rather than economic.”

He notes the first principle of the Wild Salmon Policy is conservation.

The WSAC promises “to learn from previous mistakes.” But, says Hill, it’s looking at B.C.’s “colonial past” for harvesting.

“We should learn more from [First Nations] who harvested salmon near spawning grounds to support succeeding generations.”

Why, asks Hill “were FN like the Babine Nation involved in these fisheries not given the same weight as coastal representatives who dominate the panel?”

Strategy 1.2 of the WSAC’s Options Report is “restoration of critical habitat.” An early mistake was a closed diking infrastructure.

WWSS’s Connected Waters Campaign encourages replacing old pumps and gates to open channels like Katzie Slough in Pitt Meadows to millions of fry.

In 2018, WWSS lobbied the DFO to save endangered Thompson and Chilcotin River steelhead, “caught and discarded as bycatch in commercial, FN, and recreational [chum] fisheries.”

It wants the “antiquated fishing industry to move to selected gear and methods” to save these fish. It belongs on the WSAC.

The B.C. Federation Fly Fishers lists nine short-comings of the council.

It “appears to be politically reactionary to the crisis in order to appear that “something” is being done by the province.”

Yet, it “barely mentions steelhead.”

The report “is biased toward salmon in marine waters and fisheries” with “no consideration for recreational fisheries where there is the pursuit of these fish without harvesting them” and it’s “heavily weighted toward reconciliation opportunities for FN.”

But, “the non-indigenous part of society must be considered in decisions. Without inclusiveness and transparency, societal tensions will develop.”

The WSAC “downplays known risks of hatcheries to wild fish.” Hill says.

“The council’s insistence on more production is irrational.” And, BCFFF adds, “there’s no direction on how the public should react to the Council and its report. We have tried without success to determine where our comments should go.”

Others not heard include six SFU scientists.

In a Dec. 21 letter to the WSAC they request, “to be able to contribute” with “the best available science,” noting the WSAC’s options paper contains “serious scientific inaccuracies regarding the risks of artificial propagation.

Large scale production of hatchery fish has caused them to exceed the ocean’s carrying capacity … causing serious competition between species.

The Alaskan model of mass-producing chum and pink salmon – ocean ranching recommended by WSAC – is negatively impacting survival of other species [sockeye and chinook].”

The scientists advise more protection of critical habitat, from, for example, “the negative effects of logging.”

Quick action is critical to save wild salmon, but WSAC recommendations, with wording like B.C. “should consider” this, and “explore” that, foretell more indecisiveness, confusion, and delay.

If we are “to learn from our mistakes” and improve on DFO performance, Horgan should reopen his made-in-B.C. plan to all legitimate stakeholders.

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

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