West Coast Aquatic is asking for $15 million from the federal government to put its Somass River habitat restoration plan into action.
Executive directors Sheena Falconer and Tawney Lem travelled to Ottawa Nov. 18 to meet with federal fisheries staff and ask for $15 million over 10 years to support fisheries management roundtables, implementation of the Somass Integrated Habitat Restoration Plan and inclusion in the Fisheries Protection Act process.
The meeting with ministry staff followed Falconer’s presentation to the federal finance committee pre-budget 2017 sessions in Kelowna last month.
Through a multi-stakeholder roundtable process, a risk assessment was conducted to determine the limiting factors for salmon production in the Somass.
The restoration plan was commissioned by a third party, and what came out of it is that $15 million of habitat restoration is required to repair past damage and support healthy salmon runs, Falconer said.
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns helped pave the way for Falconer and Lem in Ottawa, and he also met with Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the Somass fishery.
Falconer said WCA is seeking the full $15 million amount it will take to implement the Somass habitat restoration project.
“This area needs habitat restoration. In other regions millions of dollars have been spent in salmon restoration. Here, it’s been us and the AVEA (Alberni Valley Enhancement Association) spending time writing grants,” Falconer said.
“We have a fishery here that’s pretty critical. I don’t think us searching around for grants is productive.”
The Somass region is home to one of BC’s largest sockeye salmon returns, she said, and provides important economic, social and cultural benefit to the region.
If approved, Falconer and Lem expect that $1.5 million annually will support the governance and restoration work necessary to ensure sustainable regional fisheries.
“We’re pretty hopeful we’re going to get this funding,” she added. “We’ve got a good framework and we’ve got a good plan. We’ve had good interviews.”
Their plan is also “shovel ready”, meaning as soon as it’s funded it can be put into place.
“It’s one of the largest fisheries in BC and it’s not getting the same amount of money other fisheries are, and we need to rectify it.”