On April 20th, 2018, the proposal to create a Wild Salmon Secretariat in British Columbia was pushed forward by a special forum organized by MLA Adam Olsen that brought together a wide range of stakeholder groups. Representatives of First Nations, fish and wildlife organizations, conservation groups, non-profit advocacy agencies and a commercial fishing union met in Vancouver to discuss how the province could play a more effective role in the management of wild salmon. All forum participants represented non-partisan interests.
The goal of the forum was to provide MLA Olsen input from relevant salmon organizations, as he works with government on the potential mandate for a Wild Salmon Secretariat or Commissioner.
At the conference there was unanimous support for the proposal to establish a Wild Salmon Secretariat or appoint a Wild Salmon Commissioner to serve as a unifying force to streamline all the fisheries work being done within the BC government and to be a strong defender of wild salmon in negotiations with the federal government. From this point of agreement, each organization brought their own perspective to the discussion about how it could best be structured – whether within government or an external body – and what its mandate should be.
Salmon are largely a federal responsibility, but several speakers at the forum highlighted the province’s responsibility for watersheds. Salmon are vitally important to British Columbians, they said, and the province should prioritize their wellbeing.
The majority of participants also relayed frustration in trying to deal with the provincial government on salmon issues, having been passed from department to department because there was no single ministry in charge of the file.
Tony Allard President of Hearthstone Investments and Chair of a group called Wild Salmon Forever, said a lot of organizations are working independently on salmon issues and a Wild Salmon Secretariat could help unify those efforts.
“If British Columbians don’t stand up for wild salmon, who will?” he said.
Al Martin, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the BC Wildlife Federation, said it is clear a different approach to restoring wild salmon is needed in BC
“Having a point person for leadership in terms of salmon is important,” he said, but the role and objectives of a Wild Salmon Secretariat
need to be clarified.
Dr. Brian Riddell, President and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, said the idea of a Wild Salmon Secretariat has his full support.
“We need leadership, a champion for wild salmon,” he said. “We really need a spokesperson from the province to interact with the feds.”
Riddell noted that the Wild Salmon Policy, formulated in 2005 by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, has never been implemented. He suggested a Wild Salmon Secretariat could adopt that policy and push for it to be acted on.
Participants at the forum discussed how a Secretariat might be structured and what its mandate might be.
Joy Thorkelson, President of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union said they are looking for a wild salmon champion for BC, but that the structure of a Wild Salmon Secretariat would need to be clearly defined.
She said such an organization could be guided by a committee or board with representatives from around the province and must work to “balance the interests” of a wide array of groups.
Craig Orr, representing Watershed Watch Society, said it is crucial to “understand the mandate of what you are setting up.”
But he cautioned about trying too hard to hard to please everyone.
“When we try to balance all competing interests, wild fish are the losers. When we put wild fish first, long-term benefits flow to all interests.”
With six different provincial ministries, in addition to DFO federally, involved in the management of salmon and steelhead through proactive protection is very rarely achieved. These ministries (the Ministry of Environment being the exception) all have mandates to advance development that is detrimental to salmon. They are tasked with mitigating damage where possible, but it is not the priority. In addition, no one in government is tracking the cumulative impact of all these activities. Even if each ministry only has a moderate impact on fish habitat, it can add up to salmon being hit at every stage of their development: spawning grounds are constrained by municipal expansion, streams are channeled under roads, rivers are polluted with agricultural runoff, watersheds are logged causing waterways to cloud with silt and get too hot, migratory routes are lined with fish farms… No one in government is taking the perspective of the salmon.
Many people spoke about the need to shift away from “management” towards restoration and recovery, noting we are currently managing species into decline.
We need to rebuild populations, they said, which is no easy task. It is more expensive and challenging to fix an ecosystem in crisis, they said, than protect ecosystems from being damaged in the first place.
As Les Bogdan, Director of Regional Operations for Ducks Unlimited, said, “We are planning nature to death.”
Noting a Wild Salmon Secretariat could instigate action, Bogdan said, “We have so many plans, it is time to implement them. We have to move ahead and do it.”
People spoke about how it was the first time representatives from groups who once clashed over salmon were now sitting at the same table discussing how they share common goals.
Having such diverse groups unified on the need for a Wild Salmon Secretariat or Commissioner was seen as a very promising start.
Owen Bird, Executive Director of the Sport Fishing Institute of BC, said it “would be fantastic” to have a powerful voice speaking about the province’s
“It is very encouraging and heartening,” he said of the common interests around the forum table. “There is a definite need for a Salmon Secretariat.”
Forum participants (all representing non-partisan interests) included:
- First Nations Fisheries Council
- Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance
- Pacific Salmon Foundation
- BC Wildlife Federation
- Ducks Unlimited
- Wild Salmon Forever
- Watershed Watch Society
- Raincoast Conservation Foundation
- BC Conservation Foundation
- Nature Trust of BC
- United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union
- BC Fishing Resorts and Outfitter Association
- Sport Fishing Institute of BC
- Special Advisor to the Premier