In the shadow of recently reversed cutbacks to local salmon conservation funds, conservationists and politicians held a public forum to reaffirm their commitment to preserving the fish.
The public forum, hosted by MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, included representatives from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the District of Squamish, the Squamish River Watershed Society, the Vancouver Aquarium and Quest University.
The timing of the meeting was symbolic, as it was held after the federal government announced it would not follow through on proposed cutbacks to the salmonid enhancement program.
“Most of us may have been involved a couple weeks ago in the threat to the salmonid enhancement program, which was certainly unintentional on the part of the minister of fisheries,” said Goldsmith-Jones, acknowledging the recent turn of events.
Local conservationists had said that if the proposed cutbacks went through, many restoration programs would have been devastated.
However, thanks to an ensuing storm of criticism, the federal government reversed the cuts.
Weeks before the reversal, the government announced a $75-million coastal restoration fund.
When the reversal was announced, MP Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries and oceans, said this money would benefit the salmonid enhancement program.
For the roughly two dozen gathered at the forum held last week, it was an opportunity to affirm the importance of salmon conservation and their dedication to it.
Goldsmith-Jones recounted that she had backed an ultimately unsuccessful bill from NDP MP Fin Donnelly to end open-net fish farms within five years.
Critics of aquaculture say that open-net fish farms release waste, chemicals, disease and parasites into the surrounding ocean waters.
The diseases that are supposedly borne in the farms are believed to be devastating to wild salmon.
“I think that’s a key issue in British Columbia,” she said.
However, the proposal to end open-net fish farms didn’t pass. Bill C-228 was defeated in December.
Andrew Day of the Vancouver Aquarium highlighted a report released months ago by the organization titled Oceanwatch, which called for the establishment of a restoration strategy and fund with an immediate focus on salmon, forage fish, estuary habitat, and eelgrass, among other things.
Chessy Knight of Fisheries and Oceans noted that many people in the community may have differences in how they think about dealing with salmon, but often share the same passion for taking care of the fish.
George Iwama, Quest University’s chancellor, shared that he was working with research networks to address issues facing fisheries.
Members of the audience also asked about the future of the Squamish Spit, a well-known launching spot of for kiteboarders, which some salmon conservationists have lobbied to eliminate, arguing that it has a detrimental effect on the fish.
In response, Mayor Patricia Heintzman repeated that the District will be working on a win-win-win scenario that would be beneficial for the community, the boarders and the salmon.
Edith Tobe of the Squamish River Watershed Society commended Goldsmith-Jones for helping stop the salmonid enhancement cuts.
The cuts would’ve devastated many of the society’s projects, Tobe said.
Luckily, no lasting damage was done to any of the society’s programs, she said.