Photo: Alexandra Scott

BCWF Files Submission to Protect Marine Fish at Risk in BC

On behalf of its client, the BC Wildlife Federation, the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre has submitted a request for examination of Canada’s failure to protect endangered Pacific salmon and anadromous trout species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and the Office of the Auditor General of Canada.

The University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre’s Legal Director, Calvin Sandborn, put together the 57-page submission on BCWF’s behalf, detailing the federal government’s, and its designated management agency the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, systematic refusal to protect and restore at-risk West Coast marine fish species. 

In February of this year, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) concluded an emergency assessment of the Chilcotin and Thompson steelhead and found both populations are at imminent risk of extinction. The Tsilhqot’in National Government recognized this emergency by announcing a full closure of the Chilcotin River steelhead fishery to protect these endangered fish.

Previous federal government actions raise grave doubt whether the Canadian government will take commensurate action and follow COSEWIC’s recommendation to these fish populations for protection under SARA. Since 2002, COSEWIC has concluded that 62 marine fish species were “at risk,” but government has only listed 12 for SARA protection.

“It’s a sad day when the public is forced to pursue requests for government to follow its own rules to protect our native fish populations,” said BCWF president Harvey Andrusak.”There’s no sense in government creating laws for wildlife, if government won’t implement or follow them.”

Government Failure to Protect B.C. Marine Fish Species instead of receiving proper protection under SARA, successive governments have failed to implement our own laws and many at-risk marine fish species are managed through the Fisheries Act by DFO. Use of Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMP), in lieu of SARA protections, fails to meet the goal set out in DFO’s Wild Salmon Policy: restoring and maintaining the genetic diversity and habitat of salmon populations. Scientists have found this alternative approach to be flawed and concluded that it provides inadequate protection for endangered fish. This is validated by declining and record low returns, particularly in the Fraser River.

In fact, a 2016 audit by the Office of the Auditor General and the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development found that DFO had no timelines or plans to develop rebuilding plans for 12 of the 15 major fish stocks that were in the ‘critical zone.’ Tragically, under the status quo approach of avoiding the listing of at-risk anadromous fish, we are facing a possible collapse of some of our Pacific salmon and anadromous trout stocks.

There is a clear and compelling need to examine government decisions regarding the use of IFMPs in lieu of required SARA protections, and ultimately its failure to protect fish. DFO’s current approach will not meet its own goals set out in its 2017-2020 Sustainable Development Strategy: to prevent the extirpation and extinction of aquatic species, effectively regulate harvesting and end destructive fishing practices to restore fish stocks.

The BCWF will continue to request that the Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead be managed under the protection of SARA. Objectives must be set for wild salmon and steelhead on the West Coast to ensure that their genetic diversity and habitats are the highest priority in resource management. DFO and the province must: invest in habitat protection, end destructive non-selective fishing practices, and increase monitoring and the science required to prevent extinction of these unique fish populations.


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