British Columbia

Feds outline $647M plan to save declining Pacific salmon

The five-year Pacific Salmon Strategy will fund four pillars: conservation and stewardship, hatcheries, harvest transformation and integrated management.

The 5-year program is being touted as the 'largest and most transformative' salmon investment in history

A worker with the Department of Oceans and Fisheries tosses a sockeye salmon back into the water northeast of Vancouver, B.C. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

The federal government is touting its new $647 million, five year plan to save collapsing Pacific salmon stocks as the "largest and most transformative" salmon investment in history.

The Pacific Salmon Strategy will put money into four pillars: conservation and stewardship, hatcheries, harvest transformation and integrated management.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said the goal is not only to stop the decline, but to grow stocks back to abundance.

"It's to make sure that we're able to have a long-term sustainable fishery on the west coast and in Yukon," she said. "We are at a moment in time here where we can't wait any longer. We're seeing declines of some stocks of up to 90 per cent."

Jordan said one of the first initiatives will see an additional $100 million put toward the B.C. Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund to speed up work being done by groups working to rebuild salmon habitats.

Two new hatcheries are also in the works to increase salmon enhancement and help stabilize existing populations and recreational fishing opportunities.

Salmon stocks in almost all areas of B.C. are at historic lows, including 12 of the 13 Fraser River chinook populations which are considered at risk. 

Loss of habitat, human activity and climate change are the most significant threats.

"Salmon may be the 21st century canary in the coal mine when it comes to climate change," said Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. 

In December, the federal government announced the phase out of 19 open-net pen fish farms in the Discovery Islands near Campbell River after Indigenous groups said the farms were spreading sea lice and other fatal pathogens to migrating wild salmon.

The foreign owned fish farms have launched legal action against the government.

In April, a federal court judge granted two Discovery Island aquaculture companies an injunction allowing them to temporarily restock three of the fish farms pending the legal challenge.

The injunction was granted on the grounds of businesses and communities being hurt.

Jordan said addressing the decline in Pacific salmon won't be a quick fix.

"This will require patience and all hands on deck. Salmon cannot be protected where and when it is most convenient. The species must be a clear priority right across the region for years to come," she said.

Last week, a poll by Sierra Club B.C. and Insights West found declining salmon stocks the top social and environmental concern of British Columbians, tied with COVID-19 and poverty.