Special to The Chief
The Ministry of Environment (MOE) has only one month to collect 22 to 30 adult steelhead for a short-term supplemental hatchery program before the Cheakamus steelhead population is put at undue risk.
The Cheakamus Ecosystem Restoration Skateholders Team (CERST) argued Saturday (MArch 25) that the MOE's recommendations for natural population recovery through habitat enhancement only, using woody debris and nutrients, is not the best possible solution.
"What we're suggesting is a multiple strategy approach," said North Vancouver Outdoor School principal Victor Elderton during the first CERST meeting, March 25, at the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club. "You try the short term hatchery program, you try the woody debris, and you try the nutrient additions. You're dealing with a river that's basically been sterilized."
CERST is demanding to speak with Minister of Environment Barry Penner now. According to the committee, which consists of accredited biologists, environmental organizations, and interested community stakeholders, the end of April is the latest in which returning adult steelhead can be culled from the river for hatchery use.
According to a letter to the editor to the Vancouver Sun from Penner's office last week and further supported by documentation circulated at the CERST meeting, the Cheakamus River is productive and its habitat is already recovering from last August's CN derailment and spill of 40,000 liters of sodium hydroxide.
So why focus solely on rebuilding the river bed?
"The river is clean now, but barren," said B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF) executive director Anthony Toth, adding that the 78 per cent hatchery survival rate will aid in the vital restocking of the river. "It's a very nutrient rich river and rebounds very quickly."
CERST fears that the MOE is giving them the cold shoulder and that the MOE's perceived risks of a hatchery program are perhaps unsubstantiated.
In a letter from Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland to Penner faxed last Friday, the request to have "a more transparent technical discussion of the related issues" was made. The letter also demanded that the Ministry provide the following: Documentation to support the assumptions from which the Ministry staff concluded that the steelhead had a very good chance of recovering within 10 to 15 years;
Documentation identifying the perceived risks associated with a steelhead hatchery program quantified and weighed against the probability of the population or year class becoming extinct; and Reasons for why the conclusions of the lack of genetic impacts of properly managed hatchery augmentation programs for steelhead in the Kitimat and Hood Rivers do not apply to the Cheakamus River.
To date, the MOE has not come forth with any reports to substantiate their decisions to cross out a hatchery program, however, they are expected to say that there are genetic risks involved.
"We need to force the hand of government," said Toth, addressing the CERST. "We should have the Minister present today because the things that you are saying here is not just scientific but it's also community-minded. If we want the government and the company (CN) to act then we have to force them politically."
Toth and the BCWF are in an uproar about the Cheakamus situation and said that enough is enough."We want to see the community prospects repaid, the city business repaid, and we need to fix this in such a way that we can make it better," said Toth. "We will take them on in the court of public opinion. We're mad!"
CERST represents the opinions of organizations including the BCWF, BC Federation of Drift Fishers, BC Federation of Fly Fishers, North Vancouver Outdoor School, Pacific Salmon Foundation, South Coast Steelhead Coalition, Squamish Streamkeepers, Whistler Angling Club, the District of Squamish, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Squamish to Lillooet Sport Fishing Advisory Committee, the Squamish Angling Association, the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society, and interested community members to name a few.
CERST is charged with advising the Cheakamus River Ecosystem Recovery Technical Committee.