No more salmon tanks in SD52 classrooms

Planned upgrades to Oldfield Creek Hatchery also put on hold as feds cut thousands to program

The Stream to Sea educational program at School District 52 is no more.

With Fisheries and Oceans Canada announcing severe cuts to the department’s salmon enhancement programs in late May, approximately 175 students in the Prince Rupert School District (SD52) will no longer be able to get hands-on experience raising salmon in aquatic tanks in the classroom.

The stewardship program required a part-time coordinator who organized class field trips to Oldfield Creek Hatchery and fertilized eggs and conducted classroom discussions, explained Mike McDowall, SD52 educator and board member with the Prince Rupert Salmonid Enhancement Society. Seven classrooms this year had salmon tanks.

“[The cuts] will also include the hands-on salmon curriculum which is available to educators in French and English for all grade levels,” said McDowall.

The Stream to Sea program had been available in B.C. and the Yukon for 30 years to help students understand salmon life-cycles and know how to interact with freshwater and marine ecosystems.

Not only are the students losing a big-time learning experience, but the salmonid enhancement society itself is facing huge challenges with these cuts.

“The hatchery will lose access to trained and educated professionals. This includes a full-time habitat restoration engineer and a Stream to Sea coordinator. They are the experts we, as volunteers, rely on to make sure the work we are doing is done right,” McDowall said.

“They are the glue which keeps our organization running smoothly, especially during important brood and release seasons.”

A recent $75,000 donation made by Pacific NorthWest LNG to the society, intended for purchasing a vehicle, as well as overhauling the rearing area and equipment, which is 30-years-old, may not be used to its fullest.

“[The plans] may have to be pushed back indefinitely as we no longer have access to the experts we need to engineer the plans,” the board member said.

The society and school officials did not receive formal notice of these cutbacks, which have been made to help Fisheries and Oceans focus on its core responsibilities and mandate.

McDowall said that just one week after the Salmon Enhancement Program celebrated 40 years of existence in Quesnel, where the Rupert branch sent a representative over the May long weekend to share knowledge and experiences with hundreds of volunteers and professionals, a tele-conference was delivered, explaining the cutbacks.

“Events such as [the popular annual fish release celebration] Smolt Fest are still expected to continue. Although with less expertise support, our overall fish survival rate may drop, which may mean less fish to release,” he said.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada communications advisor Athina Vazeos said that the federal government has heard these concerns loud and clear and emphasized that money is still being delivered to the program this year.

“We remain committed to the conservation of wild Pacific salmon and the broader Salmonid Enhancement Program, which will receive $27 million in federal funding this year. We have heard the concerns of community members about some recent changes … Our government takes those concerns seriously,” Vazeos said.

“Preserving and restoring salmon habitat is fundamental to ensuring the Pacific coast has salmon for generations to come. We will work with communities to identify opportunities for collaboration to ensure that this important work is not lost and is continued and strengthened for the years ahead,” she said, adding that existing educational and technical support contracts for this year will move forward as planned.

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