Is there anyone protecting the steelhead?

Oct 29, 2019 | 41-4, Blog, Governance, Question Period, Video | 0 comments

In February 2018 I stood in Question Period twice, and asked the provincial government who was protecting steelhead. I received vague responses, essentially just deflections. Those questions started 18 months of work on fish policy that resulted in our internal policy paper entitled Standing Up for Wild Salmon that eventually let to the Premier’s Wild Salmon Advisory Council.

In the meantime, the federal and provincial government’s have scrambled to develop policy that is best described as a “have your cake and eat it too” framework. They want to protect steelhead which are close to extirpation however they do not want to confront the reality that it will require sacrifice, primarily in the Chum and Pink salmon gill net fishery.

We found out that rather than listing steelhead under the federal Species At Right Act, the federal and provincial government’s instead opted for a one-of-a-kind alternative management plan. There is plenty of speculation around the science and how it is being used, or not used, in this case. There is seemingly an endless paper trail and not all of it is publicly available.

It’s difficult to give a complex issue the fullness it is deserves in a one minute preamble. You can see a full list of citations referenced in this question below for further detail. Also, if you are wondering about the joke I reference in my supplemental, one of the members of the Official Opposition stated that due to the fact that it will take 822 years to receive a response to the Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, that perhaps the federal government is carbon dating their FOI’s.

My supplemental question to the Minister of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development about a Scientific Integrity Policy was due to the fact that the federal government has such a policy and we cannot find one for the provincial government. It should be noted however that simply having a scientific integrity policy is not good enough on its own. We also need government to have the integrity to uphold it.


[Transcript]

CHILCOTIN AND THOMPSON STEELHEAD
POPULATIONS AND PROTECTION PLAN

A. Olsen: The migration of steelhead trout from inland B.C. to ocean waters and back represents one of the wonders of the world. Yet the genetically distinct Chilcotin and Thompson Rivers populations are at grave risk of going extinct, plummeting in numbers by 80 percent over the past 15 years.

Last year the scientific body that assesses species at risk, COSEWIC, took the unusual step of issuing an emergency recommendation to list these population as endangered. Federal and provincial ministers agreed that they are under imminent threat.

Yet the populations were not listed under SARA, the federal species at risk legislation. Of course, as B.C. doesn’t have an endangered species law, they were not listed here in B.C. either.

Instead, the province and DFO, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, responded to this ecological crisis with an opaque, non-binding and widely panned joint “action plan”.

My question is to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development: last year in question period, when I asked about the drastic decline in steelhead, he said: “The commercial bycatch in the Fraser is of utmost concern to us.”

Why, then, does the steelhead action plan — “the product of significant and sustained collaboration” — between the two levels of government centre around continued commercial and gillnet fishing on the Fraser River?

Hon. D. Donaldson: Thank you to the member for the question. Our government takes the decline in steelhead stocks very seriously, and we’re committed to supporting steelhead conservation. It does concern us, what the member stated, that obviously not enough was done in the last decade and a half, and now we’re at critical levels.

We have worked on the steelhead action plan with the federal government. In that plan, we agreed to take joint measures, especially measures under provincial jurisdiction around habitat management, around watershed management and around recreational fishery management.

We are concerned over DFO’s salmon harvesting allocations. Staff estimate that the federal decision increases the protection measures for Interior Fraser steelhead from a 27-day closure to a 40-day closure, and that will only protect 60 percent to 75 percent of the species.

B.C. recommended 60 days to 75 days for protection. I have met, most recently in June, with the former federal fisheries minister, Jonathan Wilkinson. We’ve met several times on this matter. Nonetheless, in our disappointment with the federal response on the bycatch issue, we are taking habitat protection measures seriously and have been conducting work jointly with the federal government on that measure.

Mr. Speaker: The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister for the response.

Not only is this government’s steelhead action plan been widely cited as a conservation failure, it’s also been marred by allegations of political interference in the scientific process to favour commercial interests. Many complaints are coming directly from the provincial public servants.

If that wasn’t bad enough, DFO is now refusing to release the recovery potential assessment altogether. The assessment was co-authored by this government, the federal government and independent scientists, and the public has a right to see it. Instead, to get basic information about how steelhead are being managed, they’re forced to file FOIs.

DFO’s response to those freedom-of-information requests…. It will take 822 years to organize the information for us.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

A. Olsen: That was actually really quite funny.

My question is to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. Last year, in question period, the minister said the previous government “did nothing to represent B.C. interests with DFO when it comes to steelhead”. From where I am standing, things are looking pretty similar.

At the very least, can the minister please tell me if his government has a scientific integrity policy for its public service?

Hon. D. Donaldson: Yes. It’s well-documented that we were disappointed with the report that came out that didn’t accurately reflect the original scientific knowledge that provincial biologists, federal biologists and an independent biologist put in place. However, we are working with the federal government. We contributed $42 million towards salmon restoration and initiative fund. That funding has allowed us to work on, for instance, habitat restoration in the Bonaparte River that was needed after the Elephant Hill fire and has increased steelhead habitat for that steelhead run.

I also want to highlight — we haven’t had the opportunity to talk about this even just briefly in the Legislature — the tremendous efforts between the province and the federal government on the Big Bar slide this past summer. This slide not only threatened salmon runs but also threatened the Chilcotin steelhead run blocking fish passage. With the tremendous effort that was put into that, the natural passageway was restored when the river levels dropped, and the steelhead were able to make their way to the spawning grounds.

We’ll keep working with Canada, First Nations and other stakeholders on our action plan, because we know the value of steelhead as a species to ecological integrity and also to the people of the Interior.


Questions with Citations

Question

The migration of Steelhead Trout from inland BC to ocean waters and back represents one of the wonders of the world. Yet the genetically distinct Chilcotin and Thompson River populations in the Fraser river system are at grave risk (https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/emergency-assessment-concludes-that-bcs-interior-steelhead-trout-at-risk-of-extinction-673950263.html) of going extinct, plummeting in numbers by 80% over the last 15 years (https://sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/Lr-SteelheadTroutLetterFromCOSEWICChair-v00-2018Feb-Eng.pdf).

Last year, the scientific body that assesses species at risk (COSEWIC) took the unusual step of issuing an emergency recommendation to list these populations as endangered (https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/emergency-assessment-concludes-that-bcs-interior-steelhead-trout-at-risk-of-extinction-673950263.html) (https://sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/Ea-SteelheadTrout-v00-2018Feb-Eng.pdf). Federal and provincial ministers agreed that they are under imminent threat (http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2019/2019-07-24/pdf/g2-15315.pdf).

Yet the populations were not listed under SARA (https://www.ashcroftcachecreekjournal.com/news/federal-government-will-not-list-steelhead-under-species-at-risk-act/) and, of course, as BC doesn’t have an endangered species law, they were not listed here in BC either (https://thenarwhal.ca/b-c-stalls-on-promise-to-enact-endangered-species-law/). Instead, the province and DFO responded to this ecological crisis with an opaque, non-binding, and widely panned joint “action plan.” (https://www.canada.ca/en/fisheries-oceans/news/2019/07/backgrounder-government-of-canada-and-province-of-british-columbia-partner-to-take-bold-action-to-conserve-steelhead-trout.html)

Through you, Honourable Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development.

Last year in question period when I asked about the drastic decline in Steelhead, he said “the commercial bycatch in the Fraser is of utmost concern to us.” (https://adamolsenmla.ca/video-steelhead-going-extinct/)

Why then, does the Steelhead Action Plan – “the product of significant and sustained collaboration” between the two levels of government (https://www.canada.ca/en/fisheries-oceans/news/2019/07/backgrounder-government-of-canada-and-province-of-british-columbia-partner-to-take-bold-action-to-conserve-steelhead-trout.html) – centre around continued commercial and gillnet fishing in the Fraser? (https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/dfo-buried-scientists-concerns-about-endangered-steelhead-b-c-deputy-minister-says) (https://www.citynews1130.com/2019/09/29/critics-say-federal-government-is-wiping-out-commercial-pink-salmon-fisheries/)

Supplemental

Not only has this government’s Steelhead Action Plan been widely cited as a conservation failure (https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/tentative-salmon-fishery-will-harm-endangered-steelhead-runs-more-to-come) (https://bcwf.bc.ca/steelhead-not-to-be-listed-under-sara/), it has also been marred by allegations of political interference in the scientific process to favour commercial interests – many complaints coming directly from provincial public servants. (https://www.citynews1130.com/2019/09/29/critics-say-federal-government-is-wiping-out-commercial-pink-salmon-fisheries/) (https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/tentative-salmon-fishery-will-harm-endangered-steelhead-runs-more-to-come)

If that wasn’t bad enough, DFO is now refusing to release the Recovery Potential Assessment altogether (https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/dfo-buried-scientists-concerns-about-endangered-steelhead-b-c-deputy-minister-says). The assessment was co-authored by this government, the feds, and independent scientists and the public has a right to see it. Instead, to get basic information about how steelhead are being managed they are forced to file FOIs.

DFO’s response to those freedom of information requests? It will take 822 years to organize the information for you. (https://twitter.com/JZThinAir/status/1181999010552221697)

Through you, Honourable Speaker, my question is again to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development.

Last year in question period the Minister said the previous government “did nothing to represent B.C.’s interest [with DFO] when it comes to steelhead.” (https://adamolsenmla.ca/video-who-is-protecting-steelhead/) From where I’m standing things are looking pretty similar. At the very least, can the Minister please tell me if his government has a scientific integrity policy for its public service?


[siteorigin_widget class=”Jetpack_Subscriptions_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!