Resource: Action and Results – Highlights from 2019
It has been a very busy few months at Watershed Watch, working with our allies on several different fronts to defend and rebuild wild salmon and their habitats. The following is a summary of our main activities and accomplishments so far in 2019. Please get in touch if you have any questions. These are challenging times for wild salmon and we must do all we can to help them survive and thrive. Thank you for supporting our work.
The Watershed Watch team
Safe Passage for Wild Salmon—Getting fish farms off wild salmon migration routes
Late in 2018, we stood in the B.C. legislature and applauded as Chief Bob Chamberlin, Premier Horgan, Fisheries Minister Wilkinson and other leaders announced a landmark agreement to remove 17 salmon farms from the Broughton Archipelago over the next 5 years, with the implementation of a First Nations-led monitoring program. The first farm—the notorious Glacier Falls operation—has already been decommissioned. But like a game of whack-a-mole, the industry is actively seeking to expand, despite mounting evidence of the risks that salmon farms pose to wild fish. To push back against this dangerous industry in 2019, we:
- Continued providing technical support to the ‘Namgis, Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis and Mamalilikulla First Nations for their historic joint plan with the province to transition salmon farms out of their territories. We helped develop their Indigenous Monitoring and Inspection Plan.
- Continued our public calls to remove salmon farms from wild salmon migration routes, including SafeSalmon.ca, our joint initiative with Living Oceans Society and Georgia Strait Alliance, which in little over a year has amassed over 15,000 petition signatures, 11,000 highly engaged Facebook followers and dozens of willing volunteers who we mobilized to bring this issue directly to their federal election candidates. To date, supporters have sent 5000 emails to election candidates, demanding action on salmon farms, and key political parties have now made significant commitments.
- Continued to chair the Conservation Regulatory Working Group—a collaboration of conservation groups working together to defend wild salmon from salmon farms.
- Exposed the ongoing capture of wild fish by salmon farms through our analysis and report, titled Wild Fish Trapped: Incidental Catch in the Salmon Farming Industry. The report received widespread media coverage and details many significant findings including an increasing trend in wild fish reported killed in salmon farms.
- Blew the whistle on industry connections and funding that had not been disclosed in two scientific studies published by federal government researchers in March. The studies received widespread news coverage and suggested a salmon farm virus (known as piscine reovirus, or PRV) is not a serious risk to wild salmon, despite previous studies to the contrary. One of the scientific journals has called for corrections to the paper and the other is still investigating. Our investigation is also informing the ‘Namgis Nations’ court challenge of federal policy allowing fish farms to be stocked with virus-infected fish.
- Looking ahead, we will:
- Continue technical support for First Nations-led monitoring efforts and court challenges, including a federal rights and title challenge by the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation;
- Keep working with allied conservation groups to engage with government on the development of an Aquaculture Act and new election promises regarding the transition of salmon farms out of B.C. waters; and
- Continue mobilizing citizens to hold elected officials to account for destructive salmon farming practices.
Defend the Heart of the Fraser—Halting over-development and securing long-term protection for vital salmon and sturgeon habitat
Last year, we jumped headfirst into a campaign with allies at the BC Wildlife Federation, BC Rivers Institute, and others, to rally public support and secure long term protection for the ecologically-significant stretch of the Fraser between Mission and Hope. When we started, permits to build bridges to Herrling and Carey Islands were considered “imminent.” These bridges would have led to the eventual ruin of the important salmon and sturgeon habitats provided by the islands. Earlier this year the development permits were rejected by the provincial government, citing concern from First Nations and the public among their reasons.
- Watershed Watch built the campaign brand, petition website (www.HeartoftheFraser.ca), letter-writing tool and Facebook page. We gathered over 8400 petition signatures and spurred over 2400 citizen letters to Minister Doug Donaldson, and gathered 4500 followers on Facebook.
- We appeared in and promoted the Heart of the Fraser documentary and have held multiple screenings.
- Looking ahead: Our coalition is now working with government, surrounding First Nations and the landowners to secure permanent protection for Herrling and Carey Islands.
Connected Waters—Reconnecting and restoring vast and vital salmon habitat and greening flood management in the lower Fraser Valley
Salmon migration and water flow has been blocked off from over a thousand kilometres of formerly productive habitat in the lower Fraser Valley. These sloughs, creeks and side channels once provided vital refuge for juvenile salmon from throughout the Fraser watershed as they made their way to the Salish Sea. Dikes, floodgates, and pump stations were built to control flooding without consideration for salmon and aquatic ecosystem health. As these aging structures are replaced, we are pushing for modern upgrades that allow fish passage, and for the restoration of salmon habitat behind the dikes. So far this year we:
- Secured funding from the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund with our partners at Tides Canada to assess over 100 flood control structures and blocked waterways in the lower Fraser and consult with First Nations and other experts to find the highest priority projects for fish-friendly infrastructure upgrades and habitat restoration. These priorities will inform future spending from the 5-year, $140 million fund.
- Continued to lobby and build alliances, meeting with MPs, MLAs, ministers, mayors, First Nations leaders, city councillors, government managers and more. This included presenting to the provincial budget committee and supporting local government and the First Nations Emergency Planning Secretariat to do the same.
- Achieved an explicit endorsement of Connected Waters from the B.C. government’s Wild Salmon Advisory Council in their Recommendations for a Made-in-B.C. Wild Salmon Strategy.
- Brought together over 80 people for Resilient Waters: Managing Floods for All, a landmark 2-day conference, with representation from governments, First Nations, the agriculture industry, academia, engineers and conservation groups. There was broad agreement around solutions, which we are pushing to implement.
- Building on our Disconnected Waters map, which showed the extent of the problem for the first time, we collected water quality samples and other data to further identify the highest priority waterways for restoration. Held clean-ups, and canoe and bike tours of key waterways and continued our restoration project on Katzie Slough to connect people with their local waters.
- Our future plans for this project could fill several pages, but in a nutshell, we will:
- Continue to work with partners to identify high-priority waterways for restoration and fish-friendly infrastructure upgrades;
- Continue pushing for fish and ecological health to be made a high priority in all flood management decision-making, including dedicated provincial and federal funding for municipalities and First Nations, stronger enforcement of regulations, and major reforms to governance;
- Host a major Farmer-to-Farmer Forum to find flood control solutions that work for farmers and fish; and
- Continue bringing citizens and decision-makers out for hands-on restoration and monitoring of these vital salmon habitats.
Fishing Smarter—Changing the way we fish for salmon in B.C., so we can harvest salmon from abundant populations while conserving and rebuilding those that are depleted
Our changing climate is decreasing the abundance and diversity of salmon in B.C. while increasing the volatility of returns. DFO’s approach to fishery management must be upended to work in our new climate reality. Innovations in fishing gear and methods, along with better monitoring and enforcement, can dramatically reduce the impacts on endangered salmon runs. So far this year, we have:
- Continued representing the public conservation interest at fishery management tables, co-leading the efforts of the Pacific Marine Conservation Caucus; nine conservation groups with the responsibility of providing fisheries and management advice to DFO.
- Continued raising concerns about B.C. salmon fishery management with the Marine Stewardship Council through their annual surveillance audits. In early October, the commercial industry suspended this dubious eco-certification due to DFO’s inability to meet certification conditions.
- Worked with Indigenous, recreational and commercial sectors in technical working groups focused on recovering endangered chinook populations and Southern Resident Killer Whales. The outcome was the new chinook management actions announced by the minister this spring.
- Continued supporting the Lake Babine Nation and other First Nations to further develop sustainable, rights-based selective fishing operations. This year, these fisheries were hampered by extremely low salmon returns.
- Communicated to the public and DFO managers that the climate emergency means we can no longer manage or harvest salmon as we have done in the past. This included a widely-shared article in The Tyee: Reflections on a Lifelong Love Affair with Salmon, and a Broken Heart.
- Kept applying pressure to DFO for better monitoring and enforcement in all salmon fisheries. The outcome: this year DFO officially required all salmon fisheries to complete the risk assessment required under the Strategic Framework for Fishery Monitoring and Catch Reporting.
- Succeeded in getting DFO scientists, for the first time, to recommend that ALL sources of harvest related mortality in ALL harvest sectors be incorporated when estimating chinook total mortalities. We expect this will result in stronger chinook recovery measures, creating stronger incentives for harvesters to adopt more selective, sustainable fishing practices.
- Our future work will include:
- Continuing to support the development of highly-selective and sustainable salmon fisheries in B.C.
- Pushing for higher sustainability standards in the ecolabelling of B.C. salmon.
- Continued involvement in long-term recovery planning for endangered salmon, and pressure for fishery management that supports recovery.
- Pressing for stronger compliance monitoring and enforcement in all sectors.
Rebuilding Wild Salmon—Spurring stronger action to conserve and rebuild at-risk wild salmon populations
Dozens of salmon runs across B.C. are severely depleted, with several now being considered for listing under Canada’s Species At Risk Act. Canada’s Policy for the Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon provides an excellent blueprint for managing B.C.’s wild salmon, and rebuilding endangered populations, but it has only been partially implemented, and is being undermined by the provincial government. So far this year, we:
- Pushed back against the B.C. government’s approach to developing a wild salmon strategy that fails to address the root causes of the salmon crisis, perpetuates status quo fishing and promotes dangerous hatchery production. Building on last year’s work, we spoke out in the media, submitted a lengthy critique, got scientists and fishing organizations to do the same, lobbied at the highest levels of government, and spurred 664 citizen letters calling on Premier Horgan to “put wild fish first”. The official strategy was expected this spring but has been significantly delayed; an encouraging sign that our efforts had an impact.
- Pushed the federal government to list endangered Fraser River steelhead under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, spurring 1100 citizen letters. Despite sustained efforts by many allies, the feds declined to protect these iconic fish under the Act.
- Continued as an active participant in the Kwikwetlem Salmon Restoration Program, in partnership with the Kwikwetlem Nation and others. This includes administering the adult trap and transport project that helps any returning adult sockeye get past the Coquitlam dam in the fall.
- Demanded the reversal of deep cuts over the past few years to monitoring programs that track the status of wild salmon runs.
- Spoke out about the risks salmon hatcheries pose to wild salmon, supporting and hosting several screenings of the new documentary Artifishal. We are asking for any new hatchery projects to go through a full biological risk assessment to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks. Despite numerous proposals for hatchery projects, and strong expectations from the B.C. government, none were included in the 23 projects announced in July for the $140 million B.C. Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund.
- Looking ahead, we will:
- Advocate for listing endangered salmon runs under the Species at Risk Act
- Press for swifter implementation of Canada’s Policy for Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon and expose efforts to undermine it.
- Produce educational videos on salmon hatcheries, in partnership with our allies.
- Continue supporting the Kwikwetlem Nation’s efforts to re-introduce sockeye to the Coquitlam River.
Water for Fish—Ensuring clean, abundant water flows for fish and nature in a changing climate
Increasing drought due to climate change, combined with over-extraction of water, is causing more frequent and extreme water shortages in our streams and rivers, killing fish. Logging, mining and other industrial activities are further degrading our aquatic ecosystems. New laws, like B.C.’s Water Sustainability Act and the re-strengthened federal Fisheries Act, could help protect our salmon from these threats, but are not being put into full effect. Promising new models of water and land use planning, co-led by First Nations, can give communities more control over activities that impact their waters, but these initiatives are too few and poorly funded. In 2019, we:
- Authored Tapped Out: A Special Report on Water Scarcity and Water Solutions in British Columbia; an in-depth analysis tackling the myth of water abundance in B.C., identifying areas likely to experience water shortages, and offering solutions for tackling this imminent crisis. The report was released in late September and reported on in the news media.
- Continued participating in Our Water BC; a joint initiative of organizations and individuals taking action to ensure waters in B.C. are healthy and thriving for everyone who lives here.
- Continued our participation in the Water Leaders Forum, which provides policy expertise on water management reform and brings us face-to-face with the government decision-makers in charge of B.C.’s freshwater.
- Continued to support the Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable, tackling issues identified in the landmark Lower Coquitlam River Watershed Plan, including invasive species in the watershed and working with developers to define and implement best practices.
- Over the coming months we will:
- Work with allies to launch an exciting new call-to-action that will harness public concern around an array of water crises, and mobilize concerned citizens to demand concrete action from government;
- Meet with government decision makers to communicate the findings in our Tapped Out report, and promote our recommendations for improving water management in B.C.; and
- Continue supporting the Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable, Our Water BC, and the Water Leaders Forum.
Empowering people to stand up for wild salmon—offering opportunities for people to get involved; in the field, in the community and online
A majority of people living and working in British Columbia care about conserving and rebuilding wild salmon. In our role as salmon advocates, we organize our fellow citizens, giving them tools to defend wild salmon. Over the last year, in addition to the public engagement activities listed above, we:
- Hired four summer students who organized volunteers and engaged with thousands of citizens at dozens of public events in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island, getting hundreds of them to join our calls to action.
- Developed and launched a new website (www.watershedwatch.ca).
- Continued producing our weekly Salmon News media roundups for our followers.
- Hosted several volunteer socials in both Victoria and Coquitlam.
- Held canoe tours and bike tours at the Katzie Slough in Pitt Meadows and Camp/Hope Sloughs in Chilliwack, with the help of volunteers and approximately 165 participants in total.
- Held a two day conference to discuss flood control issues in the lower Fraser assisted by several volunteers who performed notetaking and issue tracking at the event.
- Held invasive species pulls at our 2017 restoration site, with the help of volunteers.
- Performed fish and water quality sampling at over 70 waterways across the lower Fraser with the help of six dedicated volunteers.
- Held numerous film screenings of Heart of the Fraser and Artifishal with the support of several volunteers, and have several more screenings planned for this year.
- With the support and enthusiasm of 10 dedicated volunteers and a team of Katzie field crew, we completed riparian restoration planting at a second site on our partner farm along the Katzie Slough restoring 440 sq meters of riparian habitat and planting 334 native plants.
- With the help of 30 volunteers, supported the North Shore Streamkeepers restore access to side channels habitat for salmonids.
- As we move forward, we will continue to engage and mobilize citizens to defend B.C.’s wild salmon and their habitats.
Thank you for your support and we look forward to connecting with you in 2020!