British Columbia’s Interior Fraser River steelhead are on the brink of extinction and this may be our last big chance to do something about it.
This year, fewer than 70 Thompson River steelhead are expected to return from a run that numbered in the thousands as recently as 2005. Fewer than 35 steelhead are expected to return to the Chilcotin River, and the remaining stocks in the Interior Fraser steelhead group, collectively known as the West Fraser stock (Nahatlach, Bridge, Seton and Stein river) have disappeared from both provincial and federal fisheries management agency’s agendas and are not being monitored. They are dying in the shadows.
In 2018, Watershed Watch Salmon Society and many of our allies and supporters were among the thousands of people and organizations who wrote to then-fisheries minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, and environment minister, Catherine McKenna, asking them to protect Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), as recommended by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a federally-mandated panel of expert scientists.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet decided to not protect these iconic fish, claiming that species at risk will fare better without the protection of the Species At Risk Act.
“The Governor in Council (GiC) has decided that not listing Thompson River and Chilcotin River Steelhead Trout under the Species at Risk Act would result in the greatest overall benefits to current and future generations of Canadians and the conservation of these wildlife species.”
Yes, they actually said that. And Premier John Horgan’s provincial government, who are responsible for steelhead management in B.C., supported the shameful decision.
Even worse, the ministers based their decision on a scientific report that was altered at the last minute by federal fisheries bureaucrats, without the permission of the scientists who had authored the report. The bureaucrats changed the conclusions of the report to downplay the threat posed by status-quo commercial fishing. B.C.’s then-deputy minister of environment, Mark Zacharias, bravely blew the whistle on this treachery by his federal counterparts. But the federal ministers stuck with the corrupted science report.
Unfortunately, rejecting fish for protection under the Species At Risk Act has been standard operating procedure since the act was created in 2002. Of the 23 marine fish in B.C. recommended for endangered status by COSEWIC, only one (the basking shark) was actually listed under the act. In all of Canada, protection under the Species At Risk Act has only been granted to three of the 44 marine fish recommended for listing by the federal science committee.
We have another chance to defend Fraser steelhead from extinction. A second review of Interior Fraser River steelhead by COSEWIC has resulted in a second classification as endangered and a second recommendation for listing under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
That recommendation has the support of a broad array of provincial, federal and international conservation organizations. The more public pressure we can apply, the better.
Please consider adding your voice to this petition, calling on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to recommend to Cabinet that Interior Fraser steelhead are finally given protection under SARA, before it is too late. And please share it with your friends and family!