June 15, 2018 2:27 pm

Province launches wild salmon council, advocacy groups don’t think it’s enough

The B.C. government has introduced a new Wild Salmon Advisory Council.

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The B.C. government has appointed a new Wild Salmon Advisory Council. The council’s job is to develop a strategy for restoring and sustaining B.C.’s salmon populations. The council will report back to Premier John Horgan by the end of the summer.

“Salmon are iconic to our province. Not just for food fisheries for indigenous people, not just for the impact on our economy,” said Horgan.

“Salmon feed our bears, they feed our orcas, they feed our people. Most importantly they feed our forests.

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“It’s a tragedy we find ourselves in 2018 on the crest of perhaps losing this important species to all the people, all of the land, all of the animals that depend on it.”

READ MORE: New study shows B.C. wild salmon are being infected by virus coming from fish farms

The salmon secretariat will be based out of the premier’s office and include support from B.C. Coastal First Nations. It will be co-chaired by Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP MLA Doug Routley and Heiltsuk First Nation Chief Marilyn Slett.

The idea of a wild salmon task force like this one came from Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, who will also sit on the council.

Fish and waterways are federal responsibility, but the B.C. government wants to have a say in the future of wild salmon.

“I am thrilled to see some progress on the wild salmon file,” Olsen said. “The threats to fish stocks are many – habitat and ecosystem degradation, poor management, fish farms, climate change – and the majority of B.C.’s salmon runs are in decline. The Wild Salmon Advisory Council needs to act decisively to give government clear direction on the path forward.”

READ MORE: B.C.’s top chefs sign letter calling for end to open-net salmon farming

But salmon advocacy groups are already raising concerns about the council. Watershed Watch Salmon Society Executive Director Aaron Hill said the hope was the council would be ‘arms length’ and ‘provide credibility’ but advocates became concerned when they saw how it is set up.

“The representation is really heavy on the commercial and recreational fishing industry. Very light on any advocacy groups advocating for the conservation of wild salmon,” said Hill.

“There is very solid representation of First Nations groups and I think that’s the only nice thing I can say about it.”

“It’s missing the right people and has some of the wrong people. It’s also been housed in the premier’s office which gives it susceptibility for political interference.”

WATCH HERE: Vancouver top chef not serving farmed salmon

The announcement of the council comes just days before the provincial government must make a decision on salmon farm leases that are up for renewal on June 20.

In April, more than 50 of British Columbia’s top chefs wrote a letter to the province calling for the end of leases for open net-pen salmon farms on coastal waters.

“I think their concerns should be there is a divide in British Columbia in terms of the continued existence of the industry,” said Horgan.

READ MORE: A threat to wild salmon? Government confirms virus in blood discharge pouring into B.C. waters

Horgan was interrupted by wild salmon advocates twice during the event at the Legislature announcing the council.

Tsastilqualas Ambers shouted out to Horgan to not renew the leases for the salmon farms and require salmon farms to be on land and not in B.C.’s waters.

“I want the halt to the permits immediately. I want to see a plan where they are dismantled within a year,” said Ambers. “Our salmon are dying. This is a disgrace.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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