Wild salmon council lacks conservation voice says conservation voice

B.C. premier, agriculture minister announce panel

The B.C. government’s newly announced wild salmon advisory council doesn’t give enough voice to conservation advocates, according to one campaigner.

Stan Proboszcz, science and campaign advisor for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, says that wild salmon are in crisis and the province is using its new panel to avoid dealing with the problem.

“We’ve had so many processes and inquiries and investigations,” said Proboszcz, after learning about the government’s plans. “I’m not really sure what a new one, a provincially led one, is going to reveal.”

The 14-member panel was announced on Friday morning by Premier John Horgan and Agriculture Minister Lana Popham.

Proboszcz said it includes strong First Nations representation but is heavily weighted towards fishing interests – both recreational and commercial – and lacks representation from advocates strictly focussed on conservation at a time when wild salmon stocks are in steep decline.

“If your house is on fire, you don’t set up an investigation to figure out why it’s burning,” he said. “You throw water on it.”

The new council comes ahead of the expiration of 20 fish farm licenses in the Broughton Archipelago on June 20.

Horgan said those licences are up to the federal government, and Popham will have more to say on those in the near future.

READ MORE: Salmon farms are Ottawa’s responsibility, John Horgan says

But Proboszcz described that as a cop-out.

The provincial government is “100 per cent responsible” for permits that allow for the anchoring of fish farm facilities to the sea floor, he said, and he called on the province not to renew those licenses.

“The province could stand strong on this but we’re not seeing that, we’re seeing this deflection,” he said.

He also called on the government to put an end to clearcutting in old-growth forests that are strongholds for wild salmon.

Horgan said the government will develop its wild salmon strategy over the summer as recommendations from the advisory group come in.

In a statement released by the provincial government, Green Party MLA Adam Olsen – a member of the council – identified fish farms as one of several threats to wild stocks.

READ MORE: Sea Shepherd, fish farmers poised for face-off

Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, wouldn’t speculate on whether the council would lead to the dismantling of fish farms, but said that aquaculture plays “a key role in protecting wild salmon stocks.”

Hall argued that the industry protects wild stocks by providing another source of fish, and that salmon farmers have invested heavily in the protection of wild stocks.

On the new advisory council, he said it was “good news that the province is taking a holistic look” at the wild salmon issue.

“We hope that this group will speak to the best and brightest scientists out there,” he said, adding that the council should consult with “the breadth of industries that are involved in the oceans” to come up with “fact-based, science-based recommendations.”

The council is co-chaired by Chief Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk Nation at Bella Bella on the B.C. Central Coast, and Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley.

Along with Olsen, members of the committee include United Fisheries and Allied Workers’ Union president Joy Thorkelson, First Nations Summit co-chair Ray Harris, Okanagan Nation Alliance fisheries biologist Dawn Machin, Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks, Heiltsuk commercial fisherman James Lawson and Ward Bond, co-owner of Island Outfitters and a member of the Canada-U.S. Pacific Salmon Foundation board.

Other members include Tasha Sutcliffe, vice-president of Ecotrust Canada, commercial fisherman Cailyn Siider, Martin Paish, who is director of the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C., Ian Bruce of the Peninsula Streams Society and Thomas Alexis, director of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance.

-With files from Tom Fletcher

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