Photo: Jessica VanIerland

Thompson & Chilcotin Steelhead

Species at risk

A call for immediate action

The emergency threat assessment by the Committee on Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) concluded that the Interior Fraser steelhead should be listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). The B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF) fully supports the January 10, 2018 call for an emergency endangered listing for these steelhead.

The BCWF wants goals set for steelhead and salmon stocks on the Pacific Coast to ensure that their genetic diversity and habitats are preserved. Government must support immediate implementation of the recommended COSEWIC listing for Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead and follow the Species at Risk Act SARA regulations to save this iconic species from extinction.

The BCWF believes receiving proper protection under SARA will be more effective than the current approach. Steelhead and other many at-risk marine fish species are managed by DFO through the Fisheries Act. Scientists have found this alternative approach to be flawed and concluded that it provides inadequate protection for the endangered fish. DFO developed the 2009 Sustainable Fisheries Framework to manage commercial fisheries using what is described as a precautionary and ecosystem-based approach.

Photo: Alexandra Scott

The need for SARA

The approach of using IFMPs instead of SARA protections for Pacific salmon fails to protect imperiled species as outlined by the UVIC Environmental Law School. IFMPs can include many elements of SARA recovery strategies and action plans; however, they have not been shown to be an effective alternative. The IFMPs have not resulted in the effective and efficient management of these stocks, or protection of the fish.

What's at stake

The listing of steelhead will have short-term economic social and cultural consequences in terms of the availability of fish from an economic perspective including loss of Marine Stewardship Council Certification and access to international markets for salmon particularly chum. However, not listing steelhead (and other salmon stocks) will result in the long-term erosion of the diversity and resilience of fish stocks and the fisheries upon which they depend.

The protection of steelhead should build upon the Wild Salmon Policy announcement on International Year of the Salmon by the federal Fisheries Minister Wilkinson on October 11, 2018.

Photo: Alexandra Scott

Bringing stakeholders together

The protection and enhancement of wild salmon must include First Nations, local government, industry and stakeholders. Protection and restoration of key habitats and development of selective fishing could provide economic social and cultural benefits in key watersheds in rural BC. Working shoulder to shoulder with indigenous groups on these habitat and sustainability issues would provide a major step towards recognition and reconciliation.

Long-term benefits

The re-establishment of an effective and coordinated Federal Fisheries Protection Program will provide great economic benefits to current and future generations as it always cost more to repair than protect habitat and stocks particularly when coordinated with provincial Water Sustainability initiatives designed to protect the ecological goods and services provided by functioning watersheds.

Maintenance of the abundance and diversity of the Steelhead stocks will provide long term economic benefits for both indigenous and non-indigenous communities both in terms of Food Social and Ceremonial purposes and both the consumptive and non-consumptive values of this species and other salmon.

Major investment in research is required in the freshwater and marine environments, using modern research techniques including genomics, remote sensing and evolving assessment techniques that could re-establish the place in fisheries research and management that BC’s academic and research facilities had in the past internationally.

A focus on rebuilding these stocks and truly selective fisheries is a unifying objective socially and culturally, rather than the current approach of managing to zero taken by DFO with steelhead and other weak stocks where the focus is allocation of a diminishing resource base. The benefits would include greater social support, increased transparency and the substitution of process to specific steelheads and salmon objectives that will drive financial technical and community support from both indigenous and non-indigenous communities at a watershed level.