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Fisheries minister visits Ladner for roundtable talk
Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea visited the West Coast this week to sit down with fisheries groups and First Nations and listen to their concerns about the industry. The minister is following up on the 2012 Cohen Commission Report which made 75 recommendations, most of which apply to her portfolio. The commission was formed in 2009 following a sockeye run of only 1.5 million fish, although those numbers rebounded to 26 million last year.
She also met with about a dozen local fishermen and representatives from the fishing industry in Ladner on Monday, facilitated by fellow cabinet member and local MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay.
Shea said the federal government took steps to help the salmon industry in the new budget by dedicating all revenues collected from the Salmon Conservation Stamp to the Pacific Salmon Foundation. This is expected to increase the contribution by roughly $1 million per year and allow the foundation to fund additional projects to improve Pacific salmon habitat in partnership with communities.
She also spoke about the new Canadian-European trade agreement, which will allow seafood exports to increase without tariffs in the 11-25 per cent range.
“We’re definitely diversifying the seafood industry,” said Shea.
Chris Acheson, executive director of the Sablefish Association, praised Findlay for setting up the meeting with local fishermen.
He said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] has to go back to a percentage harvest rate of the annual salmon run instead of a fixed farming rate. He said all the fish left in the water is a “waste” and a loss to B.C.’s economy.
“The problem is that commercial fishermen haven’t been able to get that message across to [DFO],” he said.
Although Acheson said sablefish is a stable industry, it’s important to help support other fisheries like salmon.
“We need a complete industry out here, we can’t just be sablefish fishermen, we need the backbone of the salmon industry,” he said.
Local fisherman Stewart McDonald, who catches crabs, prawns, herring, and salmon, was just happy the meeting took place.
“The other ministers sure never met with the fishermen, I never heard of it before in 30 years,” he said.
McDonald said due to restrictions set by DFO, chum salmon were only available for one day in 2013.
“There’s fish available but we don’t get to catch them,” he said, adding commercial fisherman weren’t able to harvest a single pink in 2013.
But McDonald said First Nations groups aren’t impeded by the same laws. And although they have the right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes, he said it’s an open secret that almost all of it winds up at market.
“Read the Cohen Commission Report, it said 95 per cent is sold. It’s an illegal business.”
One recent move welcomed by local fishermen is the start of a $10-million dredging project to clear the silted secondary channels of the Fraser River around Ladner and Steveston. The one-time joint commitment is funded in part by Port Metro Vancouver, DFO, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Corporation of Delta, and the City of Richmond.
Although small craft harbours like Ladner do receive federal funding for dredging, there has been no financial commitment from any level of government beyond 2015.
“Maintenance dredging will have to be a topic for another day,” said Findlay.
Shea also talked about ongoing environmental protection for fish, including the moratorium around the Discovery Islands. Although critics have accused the Harper government of watering down environmental protection in the Fisheries Act, Shea rejected the notion.
“We’re not going to protect habitat for the sake of habitat, we’re going to protect habitat for the sake of fish,” she said.
The minister said the wording of the Fisheries Act treated minnows spawning in farmers’ ditches in the prairies as protected fish habitat and was not the intention of the act.