B.C. Wildlife Federation fights back over Thompson steelhead populations | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. Wildlife Federation fights back over Thompson steelhead populations

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A member of the B.C. Wildlife Federation is criticizing the lack of transparency with Fisheries and Oceans Canada as endangered steelhead populations in the Thompson and Chilcotin Rivers continue to decline.

Jesse Zeman, director of fish and wildlife restoration with the conservation organization, addressed a House of Commons standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans, online, July 23. The video has since been shared on the federation’s Facebook page.

Zeman outlined that Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead populations have been in decline since the 1990s which he said is due to the fish being caught in nets intended for pink and chum salmon. At that time, there were around 3,000 to 4,000 spawners, he said. There were 62 Thompson and 134 Chilcotin fish counted this year, he told the committee.

“In 2017, the alarm bells were going off and we were in crisis mode,” he said, adding that Fisheries and Oceans Canada still opened net fisheries on the Fraser that year.

READ MORE: Wildlife committee launches emergency assessment for B.C. steelhead

In 2018, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada announced these fish populations were at risk of extinction and the main threats include “bycatch of adults by net fisheries targeting Pacific salmon, as well as poor ocean conditions,” he said in the committee meeting.

Zeman said this triggered the Species at Risk Act process where scientists came together to create a scientific advice document that was never released to the public.
In 2019, a provincial and federal recovery plan was created with B.C. recommending that to protect these endangered fish, it would require a 84-day period without nets on the Fraser River. Fisheries and Oceans committed only to a 27-day moving window, he said.

“For this year, in 2020, the plan is the same: The steelhead experts say you need 77 days without nets, and DFO's plan is to take the nets off for only 27 days. That means we are pushing these fish into extinction,” he said.

He said the wildlife federation still doesn’t have access to that scientific document, and that the “DFO is culturally and structurally broken.”

”It's not accountable to the public. Getting data from them is almost impossible. We are constantly referred to (Access to Information and Privacy) because people are worried they will lose their job if they share data with the public that was paid for by the public. Scientists, habitat staff and enforcement staff are rarely listened to. The prescription of the day is fishing, fishing, fishing,” he said in the address.

“Steelhead are not the only victims. Interior Fraser coho were put on life support in 1990, and a number of our chinook and sockeye runs are headed for the same place now,” he told the committee, adding current regulations are failing both fish and people.

Habitat restoration needs to be funded, nets need to be removed from the Fraser River, fisheries monitoring needs to be improved, and the agency needs to be accountable and transparent, he said.

"If we continue down this path, where steelhead go extinct and we've already got a number of runs in the Fraser around coho and sockeye and chinook salmon that are already on life-support, then we aren't going to have any fish," he said.

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