Nickel and dime cutbacks never help

We’d know if we could get a straight answer

The Kitimat River is described on DFO Canada’s website as “the only location in northern British Columbia where steelhead (trout) harvesting in permitted.”

It is a statement of fact and goes on to rather braggingly, attribute this unique fishery availability to the Kitimat Fish Hatchery’s hatchery’s enhanced steelhead trout breeding program. This is a volunteer-assisted program that has seen a number of years of good success.

Ask any angler in Kitimat who has been lucky enough to experience the thrill of hooking into a scrappy steelhead on a misty cold morning, knee-deep in the chilling waters of the Kitimat River during the spring season, if it is worth it. I believe without exception the answer would be “yes, yes, yes!”

I was thus astounded to read that funding for this valuable program was being cut back as part of the fallout of a “thorough review of DFO programs and services to determine if our work was aligned with our core mandate or if there were options for reallocation,” according to a DFO communications advisor in Vancouver – for more information on this issue read Gerry Leibel’s story in last week’s Northern Sentinel.

Answers to Gerry’s questions were handled in a very confusing way, and in fact were not provided – particularly important since the steelhead trout breeding program is actually funded by the provincial contribution to the hatchery financing rather than the federal government.

Perhaps newly-elected MLA Ellis Ross could find out why this is happening while he waits for the coming explosive legislature session.

Councillor Larry Walker raised the issue at DoK’s May 29 meeting resulting in a District plan to communicate with other local northern communities affected by cutbacks including those affecting other West Coast hatchery programs. Efforts are also needed to get direct details on the cutbacks from the DFO.

As I am writing this defense for a complete return of the steelhead program at the Kitimat Fish Hatchery, the big boss, Dominic LeBlanc, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, is leading a Canadian delegation to the first-ever UN Ocean Conference in New York City.

Unsurprisingly, Canada will be reiterating its “commitment to the sustainable harvest of our fisheries and highlighting the leadership role Canada is taking internationally on policies related to marine conservation targets”.

Leblanc will underscore Canada’s commitment to protecting five per cent of our marine and coastal areas by the end of 2017 as a clear indicator of progress towards our ultimate goal of increasing the amount of protected marine areas to 10 per cent by 2020.

Just last month (May 24) as part of its Protect Pristine Areas program, the DFO designated a new large Area of Interest (AOI) off the coast of British Columbia, representing approximately 140,000 square kilometres of ocean space. The AOI aims to provide protection to ecologically and biologically significant areas, including a ridge of hydrothermal vents. I have no idea why hydrothermal vents are “protected”.

Today the Minister announced another PPA site. He established the St. Anns Bank Marine Protected Area, east of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. This Marine Protected Area also ‘helps conserve and protect many ecologically and biologically significant features’ including important habitats, areas of high biodiversity and biological productivity, and endangered and threatened marine species, including the leatherback turtle.

That the Kitimat River is the only river in the B.C. north where a Canadian can catch and keep a hatchery (clipped adipose fin) steelhead trout, I would suggest this fishery is equally as endangered as the leatherback turtle in the east or even our hydrothermal vents off the Charlottes.

I looked, hoping to see more than politically correct prattle from the Minister on Oceans Day. After all there are events taking place all across Canada to celebrate Oceans Day.

Too bad our “event” seems to be another threat to the one advantage Kitimat has in attracting shoulder tourist season anglers to town – and one that may or may not cut some local hatchery jobs.

We’d know if we could get a straight answer to why this program has to help pay for the Minister’s delegation trips to New York.

Kitimat and the north is currently undergoing a major economic slowdown – anything that impacts that should be a matter of immediate interest. Nickle and dime cutbacks never help.