Executive Director, Aaron Hill

I’m an outdoorsy kind of guy. I like getting my hands and feet wet studying salmon or helping them out by doing things like restoring their habitat and busting poachers. Truth be told, I’m usually much happier driving a jetboat up a remote river to count fish than I am sitting in front of my computer working on policy briefs and writing letters to government decision makers. But that boring stuff makes a difference in the real world for our salmon. I know it’s not any more fun to read about than it is for me to do it, but I’ll try to make this article snappy.

There are two things I want to bring you up to speed on.

The first is DFO’s $647 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (the PSSI), which is now entering the third year of its five-year horizon. Announced with a lot of fanfare by then-Minister Bernadette Jordan back in 2021, the PSSI was billed as “the federal government’s long-term strategy to stop serious declines in key Pacific salmon populations.”

It consists of four main pillars:

– Conservation and stewardship

– Salmon enhancement

– Harvest transformation

– Integration and Collaboration

That all sounds nice, and they’ve made some good progress on habitat restoration through the B.C. Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund. One great example I’m partial to, because we helped create it, is the Resilient Waters project, which is monitoring, mapping and restoring vital salmon habitats across the lower Fraser floodplain, and improving flood safety at the same time.

Unfortunately, outside the habitat restoration work, things seem pretty messy. My colleagues and I at the Pacific Marine Conservation Caucus have been meeting with DFO staff regularly, and we are very worried the PSSI is not delivering the “transformative change” that was promised. For example, DFO’s commercial license buyback program has been heavily criticized. Large portions of the work seem to lack focus and are mired in excessive bureaucracy. For example, two full years into the program, DFO has yet to identify the ‘priority stocks’ to focus their efforts on. Worse, they don’t plan to have recovery plans for endangered salmon populations “actioned” until the final year of the program, after most of those hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars will have been spent.

That’s why Watershed Watch is leading the development of a mid-term audit of the PSSI. Working with conservation allies and DFO staff, we are developing a performance review that will evaluate DFO’s progress against their own stated objectives. We will then report the results to the public and our elected officials who are ultimately responsible for this project. We think that by keeping DFO honest and accountable, their performance can be improved, delivering better outcomes for wild salmon and taxpayers.

Over on the provincial government side, we continue to demand an actual B.C. Wild Salmon Strategy, which has been promised, and is often referred to by provincial politicians and bureaucrats, but doesn’t actually exist. It’s a long convoluted story, but the crux of it is that back in 2018 Premier Horgan and some people in his office with close ties to the commercial and charter fishing industries cobbled together a Wild Salmon Advisory Council to come up with some recommendations that would be used to create a B.C. Wild Salmon Strategy. While the council had some great people on it, there were no academic scientists, no conservation advocacy groups like Watershed Watch, very few people from interior communities, and heavy over-representation from the commercial and sportfishing business sectors. The public consultation process was marked by small handful of meetings announced on extremely short notice just before the winter holidays, and mostly in coastal fishing towns, with only a couple public meetings in Interior communities that also rely on salmon.

The councils’ recommendations contained some worthy advice on things like habitat, but glossed over key areas of provincial responsibility (like steelhead management), completely ignored salmon farms, and focused heavily on revitalizing the status quo commercial and sport fisheries, with almost no attention to the economic importance of non-consumptive uses of salmon (like wildlife viewing). Not surprisingly, the Councils’ recommendations were strongly criticized by many conservationists and scientists.

To be fair, the province has done a bit of good work on salmon by supporting the B.C. Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, alongside the feds, not to mention all that support for Watershed Security Initiatives that we helped bring about.

The next step Premier Horgan had promised to take, was to use those flawed council recommendations, and the public feedback they’d heard about them, to create a “Made in B.C. Wild Salmon Strategy.” But that never happened, and if you ask a provincial bureaucrat to send you a copy of the strategy, you’ll get any number of different answers, most of them referring back to the flawed council recommendations, which were never supposed to be the final strategy guiding our province’s important work on wild salmon.

So here we are, with a B.C. Wild Salmon Strategy that doesn’t actually exist. Watershed Watch and our allies are NOT letting this one slide. We are not going to keep pretending the emperor is wearing clothes.

Earlier this month with met with the minister responsible for the elusive B.C. wild salmon strategy—Nathan Cullen, along with his top staff—and put them on notice that the charade is over. We are keen to help and contribute our expertise when Minister Cullen gets on with the long overdue work of creating B.C.’s missing Wild Salmon Strategy. But we won’t let him or his government go on pretending that they have one.

Sorry, I guess that wasn’t as short and sweet as I’d hoped, but I get pretty fired up about these government shenanigans. 

Your support for this work makes all the difference. Whether you meet with your MP, MLA, local government rep, write letters, share our stuff on social media, or donate so we can keep the lights on, it all helps.