Maple Ridge’s river watchdog group has fired off a letter to the federal Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc seeking clarification of the muddy waters swirling around their funding.
The Alouette River Management Society fears Fisheries and Oceans Canada has the resource restoration unit on the chopping block.
The unit provides the expertise of fisheries biologists and engineers to ARMS so the group can then use local labour and money to create fish habitat and hatcheries at minimal cost.
“It’s a partnership that provides their expertise, because they don’t have the money to create those jobs,” said ARMS manager Greta Borick-Cunningham.
She added that news of the possible cuts came out of nowhere and that no one has explained anything.
“Millions and millions and millions of fish” have been raised and released into the Alouette and used to help re-establish salmon runs elsewhere thanks to the programs, Borick-Cunningham said.
“It just seems totally crazy to cut the programs that are so vital to the grass roots core, to what we can give to the community and citizens.”
Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Dan Ruimy is trying to sort it out. No changes will take place this year, he said. The salmonid enhancement program is getting more money, in addition to the $27 million already alloted, he said. Initially, $2 million was going to be cut through more use of online programs. That has since been cancelled. “They were never cutting the entire program.”
About $1.4 billion has been alotted for fish habitat restoration.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the salmonid enhancement program.
While some programs are ending, others are beginning. Ruimy said he’ll try to find out the exact implications for Maple Ridge groups such as ARMS or the Kanaka Education and Environmental Protection Society.
“There is more money. We have to understand how it plays for this whole picture.”
He said MPs criticized Fisheries’ roll out of the program.
Ross Davies, with KEEPS, said the Salmonid in the Classroom program is largely funded by KEEPS.
In Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, 16 elementary schools have aquariums where students raise chum salmon then release them every spring.
“It’s a very small amount of money that touches a large amount of people.” Davies said.
Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc vowed to “maintain and enhance” salmon conservation efforts in interviews last week.
“We remain committed to the conservation of wild Pacific salmon and the broader Salmonid Enhancement Program, which will receive $27 million in federal funding this year,” DFO spokesperson Athina Vazeos said in an e-mail.
“We have heard the concerns of community members about some recent changes to the Salmonid Enhancement Program. Our government takes those concerns seriously,” said Vazeos.