The BC Green Caucus is the midst of a series of questions prioritizing wild salmon and steelhead in BC. Today in question period I rose to ask the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development about the government’s plans to address the ongoing issue of open net fish farms in the migratory paths of west coast salmon. Mounting evidence is linking disease transmission between farmed and wild salmon which is jeopardizing the health of coastal stocks.
It’s not as if alternatives don’t already exist. Just last month a Norwegian aquaculture company announced a major investment in Ireland. Their solution involved the construction of a massive land-based salmon farm. Closer to home, the fully ‘Namgis First Nation owned company Kuterra is already farming Atlantic salmon on Vancouver Island.
This question period exchange with the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development provides one of the worst responses I’ve got in my five years in the BC Legislature. I ask a simple question about fish farm licenses. I received gobbledygook as an answer not once, but twice.
Below I reproduce both the video and text of the exchange.
A. Weaver: I am so sorely tempted to ask about that dinner on Bowen Island, but I’ll digress. I’d rather ask this.
A. Weaver: No, I wasn’t there.
Mr. Speaker: Members, if we could get to the question.
A. Weaver: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
Under previous governments, open-net fish farms were approved within First Nation territories without adequate consultation or consent, yet our present government claims it’s committed to reconciliation. In Alert Bay, the ‘Namgis Nation have lost their once prolific salmon runs. They desperately want fish farms removed from their waters. They’ve been occupying Marine Harvest fish farms since August.
The Swanson fish farm is currently empty, and its tenure is up for review this spring. Yesterday we received notice from the ‘Namgis Nation that they believe that Marine Harvest has made final preparations to restock the Swanson farm. The fish food has been delivered, they say, and the bird [nets] are now in place. They believe that the restock could happen as early as today.
My question to the Minister of Agriculture is this. If Marine Harvest is pumping new smolts into those pens, how will that impact the government’s assessment of their tenure status come June?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Wild salmon are a fundamental part of who we are in B.C., socially, economically, environmentally, First Nations and non–First Nations alike. I know that the member knows that the old government oversaw declining salmon stocks along our coast, and instead of responding to concerns about fish farms, they pushed the issue aside.
Our government is committed to protecting wild salmon and the nearly 10,000 great jobs that depend on those stocks. We’re working with First Nations, building a new relationship based on partnership and respect. And we’ve started a path forward with First Nations.
The Leader of the Third Party mentions the ‘Namgis First Nation. On January 30, four cabinet ministers had an extensive meeting with the five First Nations who have the most interest in the fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. It was a good meeting, with good dialogue. It was based on the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples’ principles. We’re planning a follow-up meeting based on a mutually agreed-upon process in a government-to-government manner.
A. Weaver: Now, I recognize that this is not answer period, but that was so far from the question I’d actually posed. I would have thought we’d get some semblance of a response to a very important issue.
You know, when we reviewed correspondence between DFO and the B.C. government with respect to the steelhead issue that my colleague raised yesterday and the day before, it was clear that nobody knows who’s on first base with respect to dealing with salmon in British Columbia. And that answer, hon. Speaker — we deserve much better in this House.
Alert Bay isn’t the only community where people are worried about open-net fish farms. It’s widely recognized as being a key issue within the web of threats facing our wild salmon populations. We’re beginning to see other jurisdictions, like Washington state, take steps. Legislation, unfortunately, didn’t pass but was tabled to actually ban new salmon farms and issuing of new licences in Washington state.
The B.C. NDP have explicitly said keeping farm sites out of important salmon migration routes is critical. In fact, the member for North Island made a promise to the ‘Namgis Nation where she reiterated, in the nation’s big house, that the main reasons they should vote B.C. NDP in the last election was to ensure that the fish farms got out of the wild migratory routes of sockeye salmon.
My question to the Minister of Agriculture, who actually grants the tenures, not the Minister of FLNRO….
A. Weaver: It is FLNRO? Okay, we’ll do FLNRO. I thank the former minister. Maybe my question should be to the former Minister of Agriculture.
The minister has the Advisory Council on Finfish Aquaculture report. When will the government remove farm sites from the wild migration routes of salmon that they promised they would do and that they told British Columbians they needed to elect them to ensure this would happen?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Thank you, I suppose, for that lengthy question. I’ll address the overall issue. The overall issue is that we’re proceeding with a shared decision-making process with the five First Nations — not just one First Nation; with the five First Nations — who are concerned about fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. That shared decision-making process incorporates the principle of consent and a government-to-government approach. That’s the way that we’ll be proceeding.
To unilaterally make a declaration in this chamber around the concerns of one First Nation is not the way this government proceeds. We proceed in partnership with First Nations involving discussions from the start, and that’s the way that we’ll get to reconciliation in this province.
Monday, February 19, 2018 – INTERIOR FRASER STEELHEAD POPULATION AND CHUM GILLNET FISHERY
A. Olsen: The Interior Fraser steelhead are in crisis. Last October I sent letters to FLNRO, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Ministry of Environment asking for information about what was being done and how we could be of help.
Despite knowledge that the letter was circulating amongst external government contacts, I never got a response. Since then, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada initiated a seldom-used fast-track process and concluded that two populations of steelhead trout breeding in the Thompson and Chilcotin river systems in B.C. are at imminent risk of extinction.
I’m going to ask again. The Thompson should have a run of steelhead of 10,000. This year it had 177. The Chilcotin should have had a run of 5,000. Instead, there were 58. I am gravely concerned about the future of the Interior Fraser steelhead stocks. To whichever minister is going to take the lead in this emergency, can you please clarify what is being done on this urgent issue?
Hon. D. Donaldson: I appreciate and welcome the question from the member. Any time we can talk about steelhead or wild salmon in this chamber, it’s an important day to be remembered.
Yes, the precipitous decline of the Interior Fraser steelhead populations is on record. It was as many as 2,500 spawners returned in 2007. This year, 235. There was a lack of focus by the previous government on wild salmon and steelhead and a lack of action by the previous federal government on steelhead and wild salmon in B.C. We need to maintain the distinct genetic stock and be aware of environmental impacts, concerns from First Nations and nearly 10,000 good jobs that depend on the salmon fishery.
We’re pleased to hear about the federal changes to the federal Fisheries Act and the support for habitat restoration that’s needed in B.C. We are taking the lead through my ministry in making sure that the federal government’s feet are held to the fire. The commercial bycatch in the Fraser is of utmost concern to us. I know I’ve talked to the member about this, that we’re making every representation we can to the federal government to correct that.
Again, we welcome the changes in the federal Fisheries Act that will help us address the habitat concerns as well.
A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister for the response, but two ancient steelhead runs are facing imminent extinction under the watch of this government.
As you well know, steelhead returned to the Fraser at the same time as DFO was opening gillnet fisheries for chum salmon. B.C. steelhead experts estimate that 50 percent of the Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead are accidentally caught by these nets as they try to swim upstream to spawn. We are down to dozens of steelhead, with no capacity to lose more, but our government continues to support the gillnet fishery, with the Ministry of Agriculture awarding the chum fishery a marine stewardship certification, promoting it as sustainable to the world.
My question again: will the minister initiate an immediate provincial protection and recovery action plan to save this endangered species, starting by pulling the chum gillnet fishery’s MSE sustainable listing?
Hon. D. Donaldson: On the overall issue, I certainly don’t want to be part of a situation where we fight over the last Interior Fraser steelhead in the system. I don’t think any member in this Legislature would want to be part of that.We’re consulting on the last remaining recreational fisheries, where Interior Fraser steelhead are incidentally caught as a bycatch. As you know, there is no more recreational fishing of the steelhead and no more catch and release for that particular species.
We’re working with DFO to identify higher-risk commercial and First Nations net fisheries impacting the Interior Fraser steelhead, exactly as the member pointed out. We’re working with DFO. It’s a DFO jurisdiction on the gillnet fishery, and we’re working on that. And we’re consulting with Interior First Nations on the potential closing of Interior Fraser food and commercial fisheries in light of the conservation issue.
I met just recently with the five chiefs of the Nicola Valley bands on this issue, on Friday, as well as with the B.C. Wildlife Federation. The long-term goal is to ensure that those steelhead return in the years to come.
Monday, February 26, 2018 – INTERIOR FRASER STEELHEAD POPULATION AND CHUM GILLNET FISHERY
A. Olsen: Last week I asked if government would retract the chum gillnet fisheries’ Marine Stewardship certification before the Thompson and Chilcotin River steelhead go extinct. In response, the Minister of FLNRO said: “It’s DFO’s jurisdiction on the gillnet fishery, and we’re working on that.”
The minister isn’t wrong, but he didn’t answer the question. Steelhead’s fall return coincides with the chum salmon gillnet fishery, which, as the minister pointed out, is managed by DFO. As steelhead are managed by the province and swim upstream to spawn, they are getting caught and killed by the chum fisheries’ nets. It is happening at such a significant rate that the COSEWIC extinction listing says it’s one of the greatest threats facing steelhead survival, yet it’s a practice the province is going out of its way to certify and advertise as sustainable.
The chum salmon gillnet fishery, in and of itself, may be sustainable, but the impact it is having on the endangered steelhead is not. This time I direct my question to the Minister of Agriculture: will you pull the chum gillnet fishery MSC sustainability listing, given the significant impact it’s having on steelhead?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Once again I welcome the question regarding steelhead. The Interior Fraser steelhead run is of grave concern to members on this side of the House, as I believe it is to all members in this chamber who do not want to see the extirpation, the extinction, of a couple of runs of steelhead in the Fraser system and all it means about biodiversity.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, pointed out that poor marine survival and excessive bycatch in non-target fisheries under the jurisdiction of DFO — Department of Fisheries and Oceans — is the major cause for the loss that we’re seeing and the decline in this species.
We know that the federal government has routinely ignored the bycatch issue. We know that former the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who was supported by the former Premier, Christy Clark, and many members on that side who are members and support the federal Conservatives, did nothing to represent B.C.’s interest when it comes to steelhead in the Interior Fraser system.
We are working, helping the federal….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. D. Donaldson: We’re working with the federal government to formulate their fishing plans to mitigate the bycatch. When it comes to the Marine Stewardship Council, we are having input and working with the federal government on that. We don’t have the ability to pull Marine Stewardship Council certification. They’re an independent, non-profit society.
A. Olsen: I’m guessing that while the steelhead go to near extinction or get extirpated, we are going to be calling the chum fishery certifiably marine sustainable — while another species goes near extinction.
I did receive the letter, a response, from the Minister of FLNRO — we tracked it down; it was a constituency in-box — and in which, he said: “Accountabilities for fisheries- and ocean-related issues and initiatives are distributed across the provincial government. Several agencies play a lead role in delivering key aspects of this work, including FLNRO; Ministry of Agriculture; Ministry of Environment; Ministry of Indigenous Relations; Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure; Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.”
The list is long. Perhaps this is why while one ministry says bycatch is a leading threat, another is saying it’s sustainable.
My question to the Minister of FLNRO is how can six ministries in addition to DFO play a lead role in managing this crisis?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Well, yes. Many ministries under provincial jurisdiction play a role. For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture has concerns about runoff from farms that impact the waters that these steelhead spawn in. The Minister of the Environment has jurisdiction over pollutants in those waters. My ministry has many tools at their disposal when it comes to the sport fishery.
What I want the member to know: I clearly do not believe that the MSC certification should apply to the chum fishery in relation to this steelhead return. That’s the department of Fisheries and Oceans’ responsibility. We will make sure that our views are well known to the federal government — as well as taking measures on habitat conservation and restoration that are within the jurisdiction of the provincial government.
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