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.
Thanks so much for this, Aaron. Far from boring – this kind of straightforward, behind-the-scenes update is super useful for those of us trying to really keep track of what’s going on on this front! It’s actually sooo refreshing, as someone who is often wading through a lot of media pieces trying to pull out the actual info, to read something like this – all killer no filler – very appreciated //
Thank you, Aaron, for the facts, your insights and for the clear “telling it like it is”. I value them all.
I hope you’re able to continue monitoring progress on these initatives Aaron. I’m sure you have moments when you wonder if your efforts are worth the frustraion, but please stay with your pursuit. We need people like you to help push for progress. Your efforts are appreciated.
Want to echo the other’s comments. Thanks and keep ip the great work!
Thank you for your persistent efforts in keeping our government accountable and protecting what is left of our pacific salmon!
The DFO and Canadian government should be ashamed of their inaction and pull their heads out of their back sides and do what they say they speak and protect our salmon. The west coast is part of Canada too!
Great stuff, but do you have to use a jet boat?
Thank you so much for all your work Aaron. It must be tremendously frustrating to have to keep pushing the government to fulfill their promises, but please please don’t stop! The salmon need you & we need you as our representative to keep politicians accountable.