The Squamish Fisheries and Oceans Canada office will stay in town.
MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones told The Chief Thursday afternoon that the DFO will continue to have an office in Squamish and not relocate as of spring, which had previously been the plan.
"I want to give 100 per cent credit to the advocacy in the community. It is just extraordinary."
There is no word on where the office will be located.
"That is not completely finalized," Goldsmith-Jones said.
The lease on the current office located on Hunter Place expires on March 31, 2019.
In addition to Squamish remaining a base for the DFO, Goldsmith-Jones also said that the DFO is hiring a second conservation officer for the Sea to Sky Corridor.
"The DFO will be filling the current vacancy and adding a second Fisheries officer," she said.
Asked if the positions were permanent, Goldsmith-Jones said, "As much as anything is permanent."
She added, "DFO doesn't do anything like expanding and hiring without an intention for this to be long-term and secure."
Dave Brown, of the Sea to Sky Fisheries Roundtable was thrilled by the news.
"The great thing is, the community once again got behind protecting salmon, fish and fish habitat and made it very clear they weren't going to accept the decision, and that was across the board," he said, adding that Goldsmith-Jones deserves credit for working behind the scenes to make sure the community's voice was heard in Ottawa.
Community groups in Squamish, including Squamish Nation representatives, have been sounding the alarm about the closure since July.
It was then that The Chief got official word that the Squamish office was closing.
“The building is being sold and personnel will be relocated prior to the spring 2019 deadline to vacate,” the DFO said in an emailed statement to The Chief in July.
Chessy Knight, president of the Squamish Watershed Society, expressed deep concern at the time about the possibility of the office closing.
“I’d love to be wrong about it, but I really think if they regionalize and close this office and put those fishery officers out of Steveston and assign them to this area, we will not get the same attention,” said Knight. “It’s just not possible.”
Knight said in particular, the Sea to Sky is very important habitat for anadromous fish, which are species that begin in freshwater, and grow in the ocean before returning to freshwater to spawn.
She said closing the office would be the “polar opposite” of the conservation priorities outlined by then Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
While the federal government’s $1.5-billion Ocean Protection Plan has been welcome, she said the funding needs to align with the rest of the system.
“That’s great if you are investing in saltwater habitat, but fish need more than saltwater. They need freshwater to spawn and for babies to grow before they can go to sea,” said Knight. “It’s all the same system.”
Reached Friday, Knight said it was good news the DFO office would stay and she appreciates the work of Goldsmith-Jones and others to reverse the closure. She also expressed frustration, though, that it has to get to the point local conservation groups are upset for the government to fully value fish in our area.
"It is like we keep going through this," Knight told The Chief.
"We're grateful to Fisheries Minister [Jonathan Wilkinson] and Pam and to senior DFO staff who made this happen, but the concern remains that it seems to be difficult to get these folks to recognize the importance of the fish stocks in the Sea to Sky Corridor and Pemberton. It always falls on the citizens and the non-governmental organizations to make a fuss."
Goldsmith-Jones reiterated that she appreciated the tireless advocacy of local community groups that the office was staying put.
"It is because DFO management — when it met with the community, and First Nations and volunteers — heard and loud and clear how important this is, and they took that very seriously," she said. "Hopefully this will allow us to get on with the real work, which is obviously the job of making sure that Howe Sound is healthy and robust and protected as can be."
~With files from Haley Ritchie
**Please note, this story is being updated as it develops.