That became clear during the current sitting of the legislature when Green Party MLAs repeatedly raised salmon and steelhead issues.
It is thought to be the first time in the legislature that a party has made salmon such a significant focus of questions.
Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, representing Oak Bay Gordon Head, Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen, and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau all asked the government about fishery issues during Question Period and estimates.
“We are pressing the government for change on a file that has for far too long been pushed aside,” said Weaver. “But although we’ve asked a lot of important questions, we haven’t got a lot of answers.”
Weaver said the exchange he had with the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development provided “one of the worst responses I've got in my five years in the BC Legislature.”
Weaver asked a simple question about fish farm licenses and “I got gobbledygook back as the response not once, but twice.”
Weaver informed the House members of the ‘Namgis Nation in Alert Bay had
been occupying Marine Harvest farms since last August to protest the impact of aquaculture on wild salmon.
He said the ‘Namgis believed Marine Harvest was preparing to restock a farm in apparent anticipation of getting its lease renewed by government.
“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,” Weaver told the House.
“My question . . . 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?”
FLNRO Minister Doug Donaldson replied his government “is committed to protecting wild salmon and the nearly 10,000 great jobs that depend on those stocks . . . and we’ve started a path forward with First Nations.”
Weaver said the response was so vague it amounted to a non-answer.
“I recognize that this is not answer period, but . . . I would have thought we’d get some semblance of a response to a very important issue,” he said. “We’re beginning to see other jurisdictions, like Washington, take steps . . . When will the government remove farm sites from the wild migration routes of salmon, which [in the election] they promised they would do?”
The Minister replied the government is “in discussions” with First Nations.
But he made no promise of action – and gave no real answers.
In Question Period the next day Sonia Furstenau returned to the topic.
“If anything, this week we’ve seen how disorganized and confusing the jurisdictional responsibilities are for salmon and steelhead issues, even within a single government,” she said, before reading from a 2007 report by a special legislative committee supported by the NDP. That report called on the government to take immediate action to minimize the negative impacts of fish farms and to enhance wild salmon populations.
“We have enough reports. Given the severe threats to wild salmon, what, concretely, is your government going to do differently to protect this foundation species?” asked Furstenau.
“I want to say that the member does raise valid points,” replied Donaldson. But he didn’t promise to do anything more than to consult First Nations.
Adam Olsen - who has recently started posting ‘Salmon Stories’ on his blog and social media through #MySalmonStory - questioned the government about dramatic declines in Chilcotin and Thompson steelhead stocks, which the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife of Canada has recently declared are at imminent risk of extinction.
The two steelhead stocks are being incidentally caught in a commercial Fraser River chum fishery.
“The Thompson should have a run of steelhead of 10,000. This year it had 177. The Chilcotin should’ve had a run of 5,000. Instead there were 58,” Olsen said in the House. “I am gravely concerned about the future of the Interior Fraser steelhead stocks. To whichever minister is going to take lead in this emergency, can you please clarify what is being done on this urgent issue?”
Donaldson replied that 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.”
But he didn’t say what his government will do about it and instead shifted the responsibility back to Ottawa.
Olsen told the House the Fraser chum fishery, which has Marine Stewardship Council certification, is part of the reason “two ancient steelhead runs are facing imminent extinction under the watch of this government.”
“We are down to dozens of steelhead, with no capacity to lose more,” said Olsen.
“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 gill-net fishery's MSC sustainable listing?”
Replied the Minister: “It's a DFO jurisdiction on the gill-net fishery and we're working on that.”
Olsen returned to the issue in a later Question Period, saying he was still waiting for an answer.
“The chum salmon gillnet fishery, in and of itself, may be sustainable, but the impact it is having on the endangered steelhead is not . . . will you pull the chum gillnet fishery MSC sustainability listing, given the significant impact it's having on steelhead?” he asked.
Donaldson said B.C. is “working with the federal government to formulate their fishing plans to mitigate the bycatch,” and that his government doesn’t “have the ability to pull Marine Stewardship Council certification.” Government records, however, indicate that the Ministry of Agriculture provides the recommendation and endorsement that are key to obtaining the certification.
Said Olsen later: “I’m tired of hearing DFO is responsible for B.C.’s salmon. It is our responsibility as British Columbians to protect that resource. We can’t just stand by while Ottawa continues to pursue policies that put our wild stocks at risk.”
Olsen brought the week of salmon questions to a close with a crucial ask of Premier Horgan.
“Every question we asked this week was about steelhead and wild salmon. We haven't received straight answers to our questions,” he said “I don't doubt this government's commitment to wild salmon, but I wonder about their ability to make concrete changes when it appears it is being managed off the side of everyone's desk.”
Then he asked the Premier: “Will your government consider creating a wild salmon commissioner or secretariat to unite and streamline the work being done by government to protect our wild salmon and steelhead relatives?”
Replied Horgan: “He has, I think, characterized fairly effectively the challenge that all of us have in British Columbia with co-management of our iconic salmon species, whether they be steelhead, whether they be chum, whether they be chinook, sockeye and the like. But that challenge didn't just arrive, as you know, and that challenge will take some time to figure out.”
But how much time do the salmon have?
Wild stocks continue to decline while the B.C. government continues to dither.
“We've heard a lot of words spoken this week. What we're proposing, with the line of questioning and with the suggestion that I made in my initial question, is action,” Olsen said in the House.
The Green Party will continue to speak for salmon, and will keep pressing the government to remove fish farms from the migratory routes of wild salmon, to cancel the MSC certification from the chum fishery, and to appoint a Wild Salmon Commissioner or a Wild Salmon Secretariat.