Kitimat Steelhead program to stay

Intense opposition causes about-turn

Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed last week that the steelhead program at the Kitimat hatchery will not be shut down.

DFO Communications Advisor Vance Chow said the production of steelhead at the Kitimat hatchery will continue following a decision by the DFO in June, a decision which was made following a backlash from communities across B.C. to the DFO’s plan to shut down hatchery and school programs.

“There will be no reductions to the Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP). All these programs will continue,” said Chow on Friday last week.

“This includes the educational and technical contracts that support Stream to Sea and Salmonids in the Classroom, the SEP Resource Restoration Unit and the hatchery production of steelhead and cutthroat trout.”

The shutting down of the steelhead program at the hatchery would have had far-reaching implications for tourism in Kitimat, as the Kitimat River is the only location in northern B.C. where steelhead harvesting is permitted, drawing fishermen from all over the province every year to Kitimat to come and catch the fish. Vance also referred to the importance of restoring the salmon habitat to ensure “the Pacific coast has salmon for generations to come”.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada is committed to the conservation of wild Pacific salmon,” said Chow. “The SEP will receive approximately $27 million in federal funding this year.”

This will come as little comfort to fishermen in the Skeena River affected by a ban until mid-July of salmon fishing on the river.

The Kitimat River has already seen a dramatic increase in the number of fishmermen since the ban was announced, putting further stress on fish stock in the river.

MP Nathan Cullen said tempers are likely to rise as fishermen jostle for room to drop their lines. “Ocean fishing, which allows higher quotas than rivers, will likely also see a spike during the Skeena closure,” said Cullen.

“Rampant cuts to hatcheries, stock protection and enhancement, as well as outrageous overfishing by international harvesters, are what really need to be attacked to protect our precious wild salmon resource, instead of targeting Northwest residents and visitors.”

Cullen also pointed to the need for additional management activities such as more DFO officers to police ocean and river fishing as important in ensuring long term stock health.

Recreational harvesting for Skeena coho, pink and chinook salmon is slated to re-open on July 15.