Squamish fish conservationists are expressing concern and anger at federal government cuts to funding for programs that protect local fish and fish habitat.
It was revealed Friday that the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Resource Restoration Unit is being eliminated, along with two other salmon enhancement programs, including the education and technical Support contracts and the production of steelhead and cutthroat trout at salmon enhancement program hatcheries.
The Resource Restoration Unit included biologists who went out into the field to investigate habitat issues and provided advice and guidance to enhance and restore habitats, according to local conservationists.
The unit will be phased out over three years, according to the government representative.
While the Salmonid Enhancement Program will still receive $27 million in federal funds this year, it too will see cuts to its staff.
“Reductions to better align with DFO’s core mandate in terms of regulatory responsibilities,” the government spokesperson said.
The cuts will have a huge impact on the work of the Squamish-based, Squamish River Watershed Society.
Cuts to staff at the restoration unit immediately shuts down more than half the projects the Squamish River Watershed Society is working on, according to Edith Tobe, executive director of the society.
It also impacts, “every single previous project DFO has worked on in our watershed.”
Projects in the Squamish Estuary, Mamquam River, at the Cheakamus Centre, and in Upper Squamish, will all lose support, Tobe said.
“This cut also puts in jeopardy most of our upcoming projects. We have been working with Resource Restoration Unit staff since the mid-1990s as they have established a position of trust with the community and Squamish Nation. These relationships do not happen overnight and by cutting the [unit] the Federal Minister of Fisheries is sending a clear message: Pacific wild salmon stocks are not a priority.”
The government’s rationale for the cuts, as told to The Chief, is that a 2016 budget review determined that Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Coast Guard require “ongoing investments to maintain the delivery of critical services to Canadians.” Those services include search and rescue, the protection of the marine environment and job creation.
Squamish conservationist John Buchanan was pointed in his criticism of the cuts and their impact locally. He accused the federal government of trading protection of freshwater habitat for ocean habitat.
“Trouble is, any kindergarten school kid can see they are connected at the hip. Turn your back on either one and they both die,” he told The Chief
“This is not good news for any watershed and double bad for Squamish as there are projects in the talking stage right now to help the Chinook Salmon populations – which, as you know, are close to extinction levels here in Squamish – and this announcement basically shelves these projects right away.”
Buchanan said the restoration unit was an economical way to protect habitat. He said he has letters of support and consultation from staff at the unit to work toward some of his restoration projects.
Without the unit’s support, he will have to turn to private companies to do the work, at a much greater cost.
“The people will not stand by and watch DFO get further dismantled under [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau especially as we expected the opposite to be true,” Buchanan said.
Dave Brown, who ironically received a National Recreational Fisheries Award from the DFO for his work in fish conservation in April, echoed Buchanan’s sentiments. Those in government are going to be held accountable for these cuts, he said.
“The Sea to Sky Fisheries Roundtable is going to be looking at all B.C. members of Parliament to stand up to Trudeau and demand these devastating cuts be reversed,” Brown told The Chief. Locally, we’ll be looking for immediate and proactive strong message from MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones against this announcement. Pam ran on a platform promising to be an advocate for fish and fish habitat in our area. We’re going to find out if she really cares by how she responds.”
Goldsmith-Jones told The Chief Monday she was as shocked as anyone by the cuts and is working to make sure Sea to Sky programs are not axed.
“I am openly critical of the decision,” she said, adding she met with federal fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc after hearing of the cuts.
“I can’t image our communities without the incredible team work of volunteers and professionals in terms of salmon habitat restoration,” she said. “We will fix this.”
Goldsmith-Jones said she would be able to elaborate on how the announced cuts would be remedied within 48 hours. She suggested the programs would remain with perhaps a different funding mechanism.
The federal department of Fisheries and Oceans plans to hire 900 staff in the coming year and foresees finding positions for all staff affected by these cuts, the government representative told The Chief.
“DFO will continue to work with stakeholders to address the recommendations of the Cohen Commission, including implementation of the Wild Salmon Policy, partnering on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, support the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative and other areas of mutual interest.”
Several salmon enhancement programs will also continue including: fish production at 23 large hatchery facilities, fish production through the Community Economic Development Program, and numerous Public Involvement Projects that are delivered by community groups and supported by DFO, according to the government spokesperson.
Tenderfoot Creek Hatchery in upper Squamish will not be impacted by the cuts.