Resource: Action and Results – 2021 update

This has been an incredibly tough year for wild salmon in B.C. This summer saw punishing drought and record low salmon returns in many areas of the province. But our wild salmon are resilient and can survive these challenges if we give them half a chance. That’s what our work is about and here are the highlights from our accomplishments so far in 2021.

 

Salmon Farming

   

  • It has been another exciting and successful year in the fight to rid B.C. of open-net salmon farms. The big news was the federal government’s decision to remove salmon farms from the Discovery Islands as requested by local First Nations. This follows the previous agreement with the Namgis, Mamalilikulla and Kwikwastu’inuxw Haxwa’mis Nations to remove salmon farms from the Broughton Archipelago. 
    • The fish farm companies fought back and applied for a judicial review of the decision and we intervened in the court case along with David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Straight Alliance, Living Oceans, and Alex Morton, all represented by EcoJustice. Industry was granted an injunction by the court to reapply to transfer fish back into their farms, but the minister turned down their reapplications. The next component of the judicial review is scheduled for October.  
    • We continued providing technical support to First Nations, including an expert report for the Homolco and Tla’amin Nations for the first hearing in the judicial review.
  • Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Oceans, Terry Beech, held a months-long consultation process on the federal promise to transition from open-net pens by 2025. We met with him twice and spurred over 2600 emails to him through our collaborative Safe Salmon campaign. His report was released in July and is mostly a “what we heard” summary of comments. The feds have put forward $20M for further consultation on transition consultations and we are worried this may be a delay tactic. However, Mr. Beech acknowledged the pivotal upcoming decision in June 2022, when the vast majority of federal fish farm licences expire. We are focusing heavily on ensuring the feds “do not renew in June 2022,” with a newly launched call to action (2300 emails so far).
  • In anticipation of the federal election, our Safe Salmon campaign focused on getting strong platform commitments to remove B.C. salmon farms. 
  • Our supporters also sent over 2400 emails to the federal government asking them to integrate the removal of B.C. salmon farms into the new Aquaculture Act
  • We continued to battle corruption at DFO. We shared an Access to Information and Privacy document (ATIP) about DFO withholding salmon farm disease information with an MP sitting on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in advance of a DFO panel. It resulted in a fierce public grilling of DFO reps by the MP.

 

Fishing Smarter

 

  • We continued leading the push for more sustainable fishery management, including better catch monitoring and enforcement, better stock assessment, accounting for fishery-related incidental mortality (FRIM) in all salmon fisheries, and addressing the impact of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on endangered salmon. Some highlights:
    • Unprecedented commercial fishery closures and fleet reduction announcements have opened the door for us to engage with DFO and stakeholders about ‘resetting’ commercial fishing to become more selective and precautionary.
    • Improved monitoring of recreational Chinook fisheries, and several new studies on fishing mortality are now underway. Our work helped make this happen.
    • Several news and social media stories and letters to DFO about illegal fishing.
    • New highly sustainable fishing opportunities created through our work with Talok Fisheries and Lake Babine Nation.
  • We influenced and responded to major federal budget announcements for wild salmon. This included numerous media stories, a presentation to the federal Liberal B.C. caucus, testifying to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and meeting with the fisheries minister and several other MPs and decision makers. Result:
    • Historic $647M funding announcement from the federal government for habitat restoration, fishery transformation and more. 
    • We are now pressing the feds to spend these funds wisely and enact long-overdue recovery plans for endangered salmon runs as required under the Fisheries Act.
  • We continued producing our popular salmon status updates.
  • The low salmon returns have spurred calls for increased hatchery production. While hatcheries are sometimes necessary to prevent extinction, hatchery fish can harm wild salmon by decreasing their genetic fitness through inbreeding, competition for limited food supplies, drawing unsustainable fishing pressure and spreading disease. We continued calling for a cautious, conservation-based approach to hatcheries. Results:
    • Successfully pushed back on calls for new fisheries targeting hatchery fish, until adequate monitoring is in place to ensure they are safe for endangered wild fish.
    • Commitment from the fisheries minister that federal decisions on hatcheries would be made through a “conservation lens.”

 

Water for Fish 

 

  • Water scarcity, pollution and mismanagement of our watersheds are ongoing threats to wild salmon, but were intensified this year by the climate change-related drought and heat waves. Working with a coalition of allies, we kept up the fight to defend B.C.’s water and watersheds. 
  • Our flagship water campaign, CodeBlue BC, continued to grow and get results this year:
    • We helped land a major win by supporting the local government in Vernon in opposing Tolko Industries’ plan to log in the city’s drinking watershed. In just a few days, we spurred 500 letters from locals to their MLA and Minister Conroy, causing Tolko to swiftly cancel their cutting plans.
    • We secured a resolution from the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, representing city councils across the lower mainland, supporting the creation of a B.C. watershed security fund.
    • We recently launched a campaign to ban water bottling in B.C., generating 3750 emails to the Premier, and counting.
    • On World Water Day (March 22, 2021), we launched season 1 of the Freshwater Stream, our new podcast about B.C.’s watersheds and the people who care about them. We released 6 episodes for season 1 and have over 1700 downloads. Season 2 will launch later in the year.
    • Over the summer we helped local freshwater champions meet with their MLAs in several B.C. communities.
  • As core members of the B.C. Watershed Security Coalition we helped secure $27M from the B.C. government last fall to create the Healthy Watersheds Initiative. The HWI is now funding 50 watershed restoration, monitoring and governance projects across B.C., with First Nations or Indigenous organizations as lead proponents on 13 of these projects, and participating in most others.
  • News stories and recent op-eds by Watershed Watch’s Tanis Gower and Aaron Hill connected the dots between climate change, the drought and wild salmon, with calls for action from our provincial and federal leaders. 
  • We continued supporting a major scientific investigation into the effects of clearcut logging on river ecosystems in B.C.
  • The Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable has hired a videographer for the summer.   Stay tuned to our social channels to see some hidden gems and highlights from the watershed. 
    • In late September 2021, the roundtable is planning to install two demonstration rain gardens at Lions Park in Port Coquitlam to manage stormwater runoff and to educate the community on how to construct rain gardens.
  • The Kwikwetlem Salmon Restoration Project has started detailing plans for a conservation hatchery to be built at the Coquitlam Dam in 2022. The small-scale hatchery will hold broodstock, incubate eggs and rear juvenile sockeye to smolts.
    • Coho fry found in Cedar Creek in May, 2021 are evidence of successful spawning and incubation from last year’s adult transplants.

 

Connected Waters

 

  • Fraser River salmon runs are in crisis and a vast area of their habitat is needlessly blocked off by flood control structures that could be upgraded to provide both fish passage and flood protection. It’s a massive problem, but we are making steady gains.
  • We took on the City of Pitt Meadows over their plans to use fish-killing flood pumps on Katzie Slough. We secured a supportive legal opinion, which was confirmed by DFO, and pressured both the federal government and the Province to redirect the project or withhold funding. As a result of our work, no decision has been made on the project to date.
  • We lobbied the government heavily for greater support of salmon-safe flood control. This included: 
    • Meetings with multiple ministers, MLAs, MPs and top bureaucrats.
    • A new letter writing tool, media stories, and an op-ed
    • Securing a new resolution from the Union of B.C. Municipalities calling for greater federal and provincial support for salmon-safe flood control and habitat restoration. 
  • The Resilient Waters project is in full swing. Our field crews and volunteers are studying 20 high-priority sites in the lower Fraser to scope out flood control and habitat improvement for salmon. Work has already begun at one project (Agassiz Slough) that will open up over 7 hectares of habitat and we are working with municipal and Indigenous government partners to secure funding for the remaining projects.
  • Our Paddle the Slough challenge saw over 300 groups turn out for COVID-safe paddling in several sloughs around Chilliwack to raise awareness about the need for salmon-safe flood control and habitat restoration in the lower Fraser. Over 50 thank-you letters were sent to the City of Chilliwack prompting the mayor and council to respond with announcements regarding work on the sloughs to match the energy of our event.
    • From that energy a new grassroots community group was formed; Friends of Bell Slough. With the support of Watershed Watch, that group has grown to 29 concerned neighbours whom we have supported to organize an invasive plant pull, create a vision and plan for the city and lobby the city after a fish die-off was discovered during the heatwave. 
  • We launched Bike the Dike: Pitt Meadows for the month of August. As of August 20 the event had nearly 230 registered participants. Participants are learning about the built and natural environments as they cycle the dike surrounding Pitt Meadows. They are also sending notes to the City of Pitt Meadows thanking them for constructing a fish-friendly pump station on Sturgeon Slough and encouraging them to continue making similar fish-friendly decisions. 

 

Heart of the Fraser

 

  • We remain dedicated to preserving and defending the rich area of salmon and sturgeon habitat between Mission and Hope known as the Heart of the Fraser
  • The issue was re-ignited this year by controversy over habitat damage at Gill Bar near Chilliwack.
  • We continue working with the Outdoor Recreation Council, the B.C. Wildlife Federation, and other allies, consulting with First Nations and lobbying the federal government to have the Heart of the Fraser declared an “ecologically significant area” under the new Fisheries Act.

 

Communications and Engagement

 

People are where our power comes from. In addition to the many things listed above we did to connect with citizens standing up for wild salmon, here are a few more.

  • Our new engagement manager, Roxanna Kooistra, joined the team at the end of March and hit the ground running, taking on major responsibilities and delivering strong outcomes in her first months with us.
  • In March, we helped launch Urban Salmon, a short documentary by photographer Fernando Lessa about the return of wild salmon to urban Vancouver waterways.
  • With volunteers we supported Uninterrupted, a salmon life cycle art project, as they presented the on-location virtual reality (VR) experience at the Vancouver Museum. 
  • The purchase of a new Watershed Watch canoe opened up volunteer opportunities for field work. Our volunteers joined our crew working alongside local First Nations members and the Resilient Waters field crew, gathering data to advance salmon-safe flood control and habitat restoration. 
  • Recently with a group of volunteers we presented to a children’s marine and forest exploration camp, educating on the importance of volunteering.
  • While COVID-19 prevented us from meeting with volunteers in person, we organized weekly Zoom meetings where we connected volunteers to our various projects and together created a series of salmon infographics.
  • Continued delivering our weekly Salmon News email roundup to keep you informed.

 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

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