The province’s Wild Salmon Advisory Council is calling for immediate action to increase the abundance of salmon and protect the communities dependent on them. In its 30-page report to the government last week the provincially-appointed council cited wide-spread public awareness of the economic and cultural importance of salmon to all British Columbians, saying the province needs to position itself as a champion, leader and strategic investor in the resource.
“[The province needs] to support the development of a lead agency for B.C. fisheries that clearly delineates and supports wild salmon and B.C. fisheries. Wild salmon need a clearly delineated home inside the provincial government structures, especially insofar as urgent action is required on multiple fronts. The current decentralized system creates a fractured voice for wild salmon issues at a time when a singular voice is necessary.”
The council says despite billions of dollars in public and private investments over the past 30 years to protect, restore, and manage B.C.’s wild salmon and steelhead populations, the stocks continue to weaken, with some at alarming rates.
“We heard at multiple times, and in many ways, that increasing wild salmon abundance is and should be a provincial government goal,” the report says. “We also heard repeatedly that the citizens of B.C., and particularly adjacent communities, must benefit directly from the public investment that will be required.”
The 14-member council included representatives from the fishing industry, conservation groups, Indigenous communities and provincial politicians, including NDP co-chairman Doug Routley and Green legislature member Adam Olsen. Heiltsuk Nation Chief Marilyn Slett also served as the council’s co-chairwoman.
The council was criticized for lacking adequate representation from inland anglers and businesses.
The council held meetings in seven communities, including Campbell River, Kamloops and Skidegate, in December and January and met with wild salmon stakeholders in Vancouver for two days.
Again the council was criticized for not holding any live community consultations in inland areas affected by diminished salmon runs.
The council noted the outcry in their report.
“The Interior regions of the province provide critical spawning habitats for wild salmon, steelhead and other salmonids and are home to multiple communities, cultures and businesses that are reliant on healthy stocks. During the engagement period, WSAC members were reminded that the strategy would be incomplete and inaccurate if it did not keep the needs and issues of Interior communities and environments top-of-mind.”
The government said it is reviewing the council’s report.
Salmon conservation groups said they were pleased with the recommendations to increase wild stocks and protect and restore habitat, but were concerned about calls to support the commercial fishery in areas of threatened fish stocks.
“There’s a strong focus on revitalizing the commercial fishing industry, but no talk at all about the impacts of fishing on endangered salmon stocks,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. “And there’s no talk of moving to new technologies that will allow for sustainable harvests of abundant runs while minimizing the harvest of endangered stocks.”
– with files from The Canadian Press