British Columbia

B.C. introduces advisory council for wild salmon protection

The group of 14 experts all come from B.C. and will develop recommendations this summer for a provincial wild salmon strategy, the province announced Friday.

'It's a tragedy that we find ourselves in 2018 on the crest of perhaps losing this important species'

Premier John Horgan was joined by Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham, and Green Party MLA Adam Olsen to announce a wild salmon advisory council. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

The B.C. government is putting together an advisory council to deal with its at-risk wild salmon stocks. 

The council will develop recommendations this summer for a provincial wild salmon strategy, the province announced Friday. 

"It's a tragedy that we find ourselves in 2018 on the crest of perhaps losing this important species to all of the people who depend on it," Premier John Horgan said Friday. 

"This is not just a coastal issue or an issue for the people in the Interior. It's an issue for all Canadians," he added.

Fourteen experts make up the council. They come from Indigenous, community and labour groups, NGOs, and recreational and commercial fisheries. 

Green Party proposal

Doug Routley, MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, and Chief Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk First Nation will lead the council. 

Green Party MLA Adam Olsen is also a member. He had earlier proposed a "wild salmon secretariat or commissioner." 

Having one provincial body to coordinate salmon conservation goals and advisory responsibilities would lead to better policies and affect concrete change, Olsen said.

Volunteers with B.C.'s Percy Walkus Hatchery catch a large salmon for conservation purposes. (Percy Walkus Hatchery/Supplied)

Right now, half-a-dozen groups, ranging from the Ministry of the Environment to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, are at the table over decisions about fish. 

Horgan says the government will soon have further comment on the future of salmon farm tenures that are due to expire June 20 for many of the aquaculture operations located on the north side of Vancouver Island.

About 50 of B.C.'s top chefs called on the province in April to terminate those leases over concerns about waste build up and chemicals. 

'Our salmon are dying'

Horgan's news conference was interrupted by a protestor shouting "you sold us out," and "our salmon are dying."

The woman loudly accused Horgan of allowing the province's ocean-based aquaculture industry to continue operating while wild salmon stocks are struggling to survive.

Alert Bay resident Tsastilqualus said salmon farms should be removed from ocean waters and operated on land in containment facilities. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

The woman, who identified herself as Tsastilqualus, says she is from the Alert Bay area but has been living in a tent on Swanson Island near several commercial salmon farms.

"I want them out of our waters completely," she said. "We don't have time to waste. Our salmon is the most important thing to us as Indigenous people. It's our culture. It's in our songs, our dances, everything. If there is no salmon, what are we?"

Horgan denied the woman's claims that his government was stalling on protecting wild salmon.

Environmentalists and First Nations say the farms infect the wild stock as they swim past, but studies haven't been as conclusive.

'It's not a simple thing to solve'

Brian Riddell, a salmon expert who spent 30 years at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and is the current Pacific Salmon Foundation chief executive officer, said Horgan's appointment of a wild salmon advisory council is the start of a necessary journey to save the species.

"It's not a simple thing to solve," he said. "It will take time. It takes a lot of collaboration."

Riddell said he expected the future of open-net aquaculture to be one of the major areas the council will examine, especially since some scientific studies are finding links between viruses that impact farmed salmon present risks to wild salmon.

"If there is the connection that these viruses that we're finding can affect Pacific salmon then it makes the argument that there's a risk to Pacific salmon from open-net pens much stronger," he said.

Read more from CBC British Columbia

With files from The Canadian Press


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