Mike Hicks of the Wild Salmon Advisory Council opens a community meeting held in Port Alberni to gather public input on rebuilding B.C.’s declining Pacific salmon. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

B.C. must take lead on salmon preservation, say west coast fishers

Land-based fish farming, focus on small streams put forth as two solutions

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the News

Representatives of B.C.’s Wild Salmon Advisory Council told a Port Alberni audience that B.C. must assert greater authority over Pacific salmon in order to reverse a steady decline of stocks.

The council was appointed in June by Premier John Horgan to develop strategy for restoring and sustaining wild salmon.

“The premier essentially said, ‘Grow more fish,’” said Nanaimo MLA Doug Routley, inviting input from about 40 people at Echo Centre Thursday night (Dec. 6). “It is the foundational species in our province.”

Although wild chinook stocks are in greatest jeopardy, all five main species have been in general decline for years. Some blame the federal government for failing to property steward the resource, a chronic complaint that has brought renewed pressure from B.C. for a greater hand in bringing back the stocks.

“We’re also meant to unify stakeholders’ voices in the province in order to go to Ottawa and seek more management authority for salmon stocks,” Routley said.

Routley acknowledged the hard work of DFO staff, adding: “Sometimes there’s a disconnect between here and Ottawa … If we want regulatory change, this is what has to be done.”

One of their proposals is to reinstate a B.C. government ministry dedicated to anadromous fish species, a portfolio that was scrapped by the Campbell Liberal government shortly after it came to power, he said. The council endorses Bill C-68 — a modernization of the Fisheries Act expected to pass into law before year’s end — as a critical step in restoring wild stocks, creating economic opportunities through sustainable, community-based fisheries and involving the B.C. government and First Nations in the solutions.

Dave Edwards, a Ucluelet commercial fisherman, called Ottawa’s catch allocation policy “a massive failure” and noted that B.C. is the only maritime province in Canada without a “ministry of fish.” The current approach is neither transparent nor inclusive, he said.

“I implore the provincial government to show leadership with a balanced approach,” Edwards said.

Andy Webster, a native commercial fisherman, said he’s glad the province is stepping up. He wants to see greater attention paid to the many small streams along the west coast, many of which are depleted but still bear high production potential.

Similarly, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council fisheries manager Eric Angel applauded B.C.’s initiative: “We want you at the table,” he said, referring to fishery management roundtables. “We want you participating and bringing some money to this. The biggest single absence at the table is the province.”

There was no doubt in Floyd Campbell’s mind what needs to be done: Move fish farms from marine to land-based operations. Sea lice were once rare but now it’s rare to find fish without them, said the Ahousaht fisherman. Others called for more small-scale hatcheries along the west coast and pointed to the need for major stream rehabilitation efforts to mitigate continuing destruction through logging and roadbuilding practices.

Sheena Falconer of West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Society said habitat restoration and water quality analysis are hindered by restrictive grant requirements. She said many streams have deteriorated to a point where riparian planting alone won’t restore productivity.

“There are too many competing interests for waterfront. Fish aren’t going to win,” she said.

Grant Watts of Tseshaht First Nation blamed climate change and rising stream temperatures for catches that are a small fraction of what they once were.

The council also heard from a government employee. Elliott Molsberry said a high-level review of the Forest and Range Practices Act is badly needed.

“I can’t go out and enforce the legislation because of the way it’s written,” he said.

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