Minister’s Roundtable on Fraser Sockeye Return
Report – SEHAB Participation in Minister’s Roundtable on Fraser Sockeye Return
Representing SEHAB, and at the request of the Policy Branch at DFO RHQ, I attended Minister Gail Shea’s September 11/09 roundtable meeting in Vancouver, along with representatives of at least 20 First Nations, conservation, commercial fishing and recreational fishing organizations. I received notice of this meeting two days prior; as a result, there was little opportunity for input from SEHAB members concerning a presentation, or who would present it.
Minister Shea sat at the head table with Gary Lunn, Minister of State for Sport; Randy Kamp, Parliamentary Secretary and meeting Chair, and; Paul Sprout, Regional Director General.
Head table opening remarks by all three members of Parliament and Mr. Sprout included expressions of concern about the non-appearance of a healthy return of Fraser sockeye, and for the communities affected by this turn of events. Mr. Kamp asked each representative to provide a perspective and recommendations, and welcomed discussion on other west coast fishery concerns. Each representative spoke up to ten minutes. Parliamentarians and/or Mr. Sprout often followed each presentation with questions or additional information.
My comments included the following:
- Introduced SEHAB as voice of volunteers engaged in strategic enhancement, habitat restoration and public awareness projects from White Rock to Whitehorse. These volunteers enjoy a principle-based, collegial relationship with the Department via the CIP and Community Advisors.
- Referring to SEHAB’s May/09 brief to Minister, volunteers have identified three chronic issues that stand in the way of stock rebuilding and significant habitat restoration/conservation – enforcement, communication and assessment.
- With reference to the issue at hand (Reliable run predictions based on historical assessments), volunteers fifteen years ago increased their involvement and expertise in assessment as the Department decreased its commitment to contracted resources and changed the job description for Fishery Officers. With little or no investment in “on the ground” assessment today, many volunteers are concerned that the Department has lost “continuity” in its assessment data, and that will have a big impact on the effectiveness, if not the relevance, of the Wild Salmon Policy.
- Pacific Salmon populations have dwindled slowly, and, if they do, will rebuild at a similar pace. A productive 30 year relationship between government (Community Advisors) and the community (volunteer stewards) is also dwindling slowly as a result of inaction on habitat infractions, a poor record re habitat protection, and a decreasing commitment to the volunteer effort in general.
- With a modest increase to a modest CIP budget alongside a new commitment to assessment and the Wild Salmon Policy, CA’s will be able to meet the needs of volunteers, and the Department will have the opportunity to fully implement the WSP alongside a committed, well-trained army of volunteer allies. The health of this partnership is a critical and inexpensive hedge against species extirpation.
- Recommendations – lots of discussion on answers/solutions/predictions, but are we asking the right questions? For example, do we know to what extent smolts absorb toxins in the lower Fraser? Do we know this “soup’s” effect on survival? If it is a factor, why did some Fraser sockeye runs do well this year, while others obviously didn’t? Recommend that, until we have the science “nailed”, we take a precautionary approach to how we live within this ecosystem, and find ways to fully implement WSP.
- Question - (from Gary Lunn) “To what extent do volunteer enhancement efforts contribute to increased salmon populations?” Answer – Enhancement results are measurable and positive. Other impacts – public awareness/education, training, community commitment, habitat conservation, etc. - are positive and immeasurable. The CIP is a Regional tapestry of wisdom and commitment that acts as a buffer against the prevailing winds of development and decreased enforcement budgets.
- Question - (from Minister Shea) “ Please clarify your query concerning testing of smolts above and below Vancouver”. Following my response, the Minister confirmed with Mr. Sprout and Dr. Laura Richards that there is no initiative like this at the present time.
Following are some of the common issues and comments:
- All stakeholders described the effect of this event on those that they represented.
- What began as a collective call for a scientific panel to investigate the matter evolved through the morning to one that would include FN governments and NGO’s.
- Many commended RHQ for its decisive action to terminate all sockeye fisheries as soon as concerns about returning numbers were raised. Many agreed that this action facilitated the probability of a healthy return of Fraser sockeye to the spawning grounds.
- There was general consensus, and DFO Managers and scientists agreed, that the Pacific Ocean is a “black box”, an uninvestigated theatre that may hold some answers as to why, especially in the past ten years, predictions for Fraser sockeye have become increasingly unreliable.
- There was little support for computer models as predictors of run size.
- Sea lice were identified as a minor factor, at best, in this year’s disappointing sockeye return.
- I was impressed by the quality of each representative’s contribution, and the respectful, collegial atmosphere of the entire morning.