Wild fisheries are the very backbone of the coast that we live and work on. As we face the challenges in our ocean it is imperative that there be a comprehensive plan in place to address them.
What people on the coast and in the riding have said to me repeatedly is that this ongoing hit-and-miss process that governments have used does not work. They do not work because there is no plan and no way of measuring that plan. It benefits all of us when the wild life in our ocean thrives. With climate change, plastic pollution and so many other difficulties facing the ocean wildlife, they only solution is a comprehensive plan and the courage to implement it.
This spring and summer we have had several announcements by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. The announcements are reactionary- which at times are part of the reality of making decisions – the weakness is the announcements are not part of a comprehensive plan that provides guidance for everyone who works, lives, and protects the ocean.
When the first round of chinook restrictions were announced on April 16, two weeks after the chinook fishery had opened, my office was inundated with calls, letters and emails by community members who participate in our public fishery.
People were surprised and angry. They expressed that the timing of the announcement gave no time to adapt and plan, and the language and communication gave the false impression that fishing was closed for the season in our region. They felt that the economic significance of the public fishery on our communities wasn’t given consideration, and the science behind the decisions was either unclear, unavailable, or didn’t add up. Even those that did participate in the brief consultation process felt their voices were ignored.
All in all, it was clear that there is a huge credibility-gap between the people who live and work on our waters, and the federal ministry responsible for them. I sent a detailed summary of these concerns as well as suggestions that were offered to support the public fishery through these conservation efforts like allowing for retention of hatchery-marked chinook, and invited the Minister to come to our communities and hear from local experts. The Minister hasn’t responded yet.
Instead, on July 12, just days before retention of chinook was set to begin a new surprise set of restrictions, this time based on the size of fish. Again, some people thought the fishery had been closed entirely, others had no idea why, or how a landslide halfway up the Fraser River could mean that they can’t keep a 16lb chinook caught in Johnstone Strait, even if it came from a hatchery. Again constituents were asking my office – where is the plan?
I’ve said before and I’ll say again: nobody cares more about the health of our oceans and our salmon than the people who live in our coastal communities, and there is a lot of knowledge among our local fishermen and women, and indigenous communities that should be considered. The Minister needs to work with our local stakeholders in order to achieve buy-in for conservation measures and in order to properly manage our fishery. For too long, successive Conservative and Liberal fisheries ministers have failed to do that, and we’re seeing the results.
Some of our fish are in serious trouble. Where is the plan? Where is the action needed to address these issues?
I encourage those who are angry to write to the Minister and to their MP, but not to take it out on local DFO staff. Remember that they don’t set the policies and are doing the best they can with the resources and guidelines they have been given by the Ministry.
As coastal communities we all share in the responsibility of taking care of our salmon habitats and populations. It’s time the Ministry treat us as a partner in that project rather than an afterthought or an adversary.
Rachel Blaney is the Member of Parliament for North Island-Powell River