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Roger Dyer, a member of the Stoney Creek Environmental Committee, counts returning wild salmon at Stoney Creek

Wild Salmon Advocates Fight an Upstream Battle

“We’ve been working at trying to get the policy implemented for years,” said Aaron Hill

By Jamuna Galay-Tamang , in City , on November 22, 2017

Environmentalists are growing increasingly frustrated that their decade-long effort to implement a wild salmon protection policy has resulted in little action by the federal government.

The policy aims to protect wild salmon diversity by maintaining their habitats and managing sustainable fisheries. However one wild salmon conservation study shows many wild salmon habitats monitored by DFO have gotten worse since the policy was introduced. Climate change, open-net fish farms, and on-land development are just a few factors which continue to threaten these populations. 

More than 150 wild salmon advocates turned out at a Nov. 16 public meeting, hosted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, demanding more action from the government.

“We’ve been working at trying to get the policy implemented for years,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. “Since 2007, 10 years now, we’ve been trying to get this thing implemented. And it’s been a huge struggle.”

Wild Salmon Policy

Canada’s Policy for Wild Pacific Salmon, now more commonly known as the Wild Salmon Policy, was first introduced in 2005.

It was the DFO’s commitment to make the maintenance of healthy and diverse wild salmon populations a top resource management priority.

The policy was praised for its innovation and timeliness. However, the enthusiasm of wild salmon advocates soon died down when little action followed.

Wild salmon spawning up the Brunette River in early November.

Why the Delay?

Funding has been an ongoing hurdle.

The previous Harper government began a series of deep cuts to the DFO budget in 2012, at a time when experts said more support for salmon protection was badly needed.

The cries from salmon advocates were echoed in a report by Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen, who was commissioned by the federal government in 2009 to lead an inquiry into declining sockeye salmon in the Fraser River.

Cohen’s report, released in 2012 contained 75 recommendations for the DFO. Among them was an endorsement of the Wild Salmon Policy.

The current Liberal government, elected in 2015, has promised to help. In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a mandate letter to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard to make wild-salmon protection a priority. The government allotted $1.5 billion over five years to ocean protection and $197 million over five years to ocean and freshwater science.

These sound like big numbers, but the money disappears quickly when divided among many competing interests.  Salmon advocates point out little of the new money has trickled to ground level, and many crucial salmon streams are still not being monitored.

A Call to Action

“It’s time for action now,” said Eddie Gardner, of Skwah First Nation and president of the Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance, speaking at the Chilliwack meeting.

He thanked the DFO for bringing people together to share their different views. Then he and a dozen others standing at the front of the gymnasium led a prayer for those in attendance, a song for the salmon.

“Our wild salmon have come under so many threats from so many different areas. It could be big oil, it could be big mining, it could be runoffs from agriculture or climate change,” he said. “Even though DFO is doing their level best to try to prevent serious harm, what we’re witnessing on the ground … is that there is harm.”

Hill from Watershed Watch, suspects the DFO doesn’t like the salmon policy because it creates more work.

Federal efforts to implement these wild salmon protection policies seem dead-in-the-water after 12 years.

A spokesperson from DFO defended the delays, saying the initial policy was too vague. But Sarah Murdoch, regional director of the policy branch, agreed it is now time to craft a more detailed plan, which includes consulting First Nations and the public.

“There was never an expectation it would be done in a certain time-bound period,” Murdoch said. “No criticism to the folks who developed the plan. But it wasn’t really laid out clearly of what would happen when and where and by who. Where are the resources and where is the funding? It was quite aspirational.”

Salmon advocates are skeptical of the federal government’s commitment to conservation efforts. A Cohen report progress update in September of this year showed little improvement over 2016.

“I really think that’s unacceptable. I don’t think that was the spirit of the policy,” said Michael Price, a PhD student at Simon Fraser University studying salmon conservation. “I think they developed the Wild Salmon Policy for it to help wild salmon and for it to be implemented.”

Price along with other researchers on the wild-salmon conservation study concluded speed is crucial and recommended the existing protection policy be implemented immediately.

Murdoch said at the meeting that the DFO plans to take action sometime in 2018.

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