Gord Johns, Member of Parliament for Courtenay-Alberni reiterated his call on the Liberal government to provide immediate assistance to the Alberni Valley community given the reduced Somass River Sockeye run.
“With a dramatically shortened season our sockeye fishers took a massive hit to their income and most of them did not even have enough hours to qualify for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits,” said Johns in the House of Commons on Thursday, Nov. 23. “I want people to consider the impact on a seasonal worker whose entire industry is shut down for most of the season and who will receive no income and no financial support for the entire year.”
Johns called on the government to expand and extend EI benefits for fishers in the Alberni Valley, but the demand fell on deaf ears. The Somass River has a historical average run of up to 1.2 million salmon. However, this year’s run was just over 300,000.
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has deemed the Somass River Sockeye run as critical and a red zone,” said Johns. “People need support in our communities…and today I am still looking for an answer for my constituents.”
Johns went on to press the government for funding for West Coast Aquatic, whose application was recently rejected under the Coastal Restoration Fund.
“The rejection of this application comes after a decade of steep cuts by Conservative governments which has greatly affected the well-being of all our watersheds and sensitive ecosystems, including the Somass River,” said Johns, who pointed to a Statistic Canada report identifying the Alberni Valley as having the highest poverty rate per capita in BC.
Near the end of his remarks, Johns quoted Chief Cynthia Dick of the Tseshaht First Nation to underline the importance of a healthy Somass run: “Salmon has always been an important part of who we are as Tseshaht people. We rely on our salmon and our fishery beyond providing food security and to support our local economy. It’s a major part of our culture, identity, and it brings us together as people.”