Question Period, Feb. 19, 2018

Answer:

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.

Mr. Speaker: Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

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.

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