Should You Vote For The Steelhead Party of Canada In The Upcoming Election?
In 1992, the Atlantic Cod fish population collapsed. In 1993, the federal government placed a moratorium on the cod fishery that ended a multi-generational way of life for Newfoundlanders that spanned hundreds of years of Canadian history.
Advanced technologies in commercial fishing allowed state-of-the-art fishing trawlers to be so efficient in catching cod that the rate that cod were being taken from the ocean was faster than what the fish population could replace itself. Newfoundlanders sounded the alarm of a pending crash as did federal government fisheries scientists. But the government of the day did not act on generations of local knowledge or the scientific evidence.
Massive commercial exploitation of cod was condoned until 1992 when cod and the culture that existed because of them ended abruptly. An entire economy was gone. A Canadian culture was gone. Atlantic Cod were a species pushed to the brink of extinction under full knowledge of the implications of the rate of commercial fishing exploitation. Thirty years after the closure of the Atlantic Cod fishery, the Atlantic Cod population has not recovered. The fish were pushed past their ecological tipping point to the point of no return.
The decades that followed the cod moratorium saw conservationists unravelling a troubling history in the federal government decision making and accountability processes. Canadians became aware of the science that was ignored and manipulated as well as the local fisherman’s concerns that were not heeded by decision makers. Canadians, even to this day, are still finding out more and more about the federal scientists who were muzzled and how millions of Canadians were robbed of a national ecological treasure that had thrived in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean for millennia.
This dark period in Canada’s conservation history, by all measures, was a grand failure of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and a violation of the public trust doctrine that entrusts the stewardship of public natural resources with those elected to government by the citizens of this country.
In 2019, Canadians are bearing witness to the repeat of history but this time on the other side of Canada in the Pacific Ocean.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which is an independent body of scientists charged with advising the government on the status of wildlife in Canada, convened an emergency meeting in 2018 to assess the status of the Thompson and Chilcotin Rivers steelhead. COSEWIC had recommended to the federal Minister of the Environment that these fish be listed as endangered.
A year later, in July of 2019, the Government of Canada announced that it would not list the Thompson and Chilcotin Rivers steelhead populations as endangered species under the Canadian federal Species at Risk Act. In 2017, there were only 58 adult spawning Chilcotin River steelhead and 177 adult spawning Thompson River steelhead left in existence.
Recently, the BC Wildlife Federation, with assistance from the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre poured over 1600 pages of correspondence written by federal and provincial government officials which were obtained under a Freedom of Information request. You can read the BCWF News Release here which summarizes their findings.
The final report (which is a very large file) from these groups claims to uncover a troubling pattern of deception and manipulation of scientific reports that lead to the refusal of the federal government to list the Thompson and Chilcotin Rivers steelhead populations as endangered species under the Canadian federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).
Listing these steelhead as endangered would have then kicked into legal gear a host of conservation actions and protective measures which mostly likely could prevent the extinction of the two steelhead populations. The report also uncovered those good folks within government that were standing up for Canadians and demanding truth and transparency in this decision-making process.
“The BCWF is dismayed that the Government of Canada refused to list these fish despite the scientific evidence” said, President BCWF Bill Bosch. Bosch called the promise to protect steelhead without listing them “meaningless” considering that recent net-based fishery openings on the Fraser River are happening at the same time as the steelhead return. “Fisheries and Oceans Canada is knowingly pushing these fish to extinction by contradicting the science,” he said.
“The bigger problem is that the federal government routinely withholds protection for endangered fish species if real protection would affect non-selective net-based fisheries. Protecting endangered species is not receiving the priority it deserves.” – Calvin Sandborn QC, Legal Director of the UVic Environmental Law Centre.
These two British Columbia steelhead runs were once world-renowned fisheries and an amazing testament to the province’s Supernatural BC status. Even though these runs occurred in BC, these steelhead were an iconic fish that belonged to every single Canadian. Anglers from all over the world flocked to BC to fish these ocean-run trout and the economies of several small BC communities were built around the money these anglers spent coming to their region in search of this famed Canadian steelhead.
Canada’s public lands, water, fish and wildlife belong to each and everyone of Canadian. But it’s not easy being a conservationist in Canada right now. Over the last year Canadians watched the last herds of endangered Mountain Caribou disappear from southern BC while hearing the Government of Canada announce that it would not escalate protection under Canada’s Species at Risk Act for these caribou.
Canadians are bearing witness to this same pattern of demise for species that include the killer whales off the coast of British Columbia, Atlantic Right Whales, Chinook Salmon, wilderness and old growth forests. Dangerously low salmon stocks are now fuelling organized crime and illegal markets for salmon in British Columbia. Sockeye are becoming Canada’s west coast equivalent of the rhino.
Everyday, pictures surface on social media of salmon, steelhead and endangered white sturgeon washing up dead or being dumped on the banks of the Fraser River. Many reports are showing that the fish are being killed by gill nets. Gill nets are still being used on the Fraser River and the greatest threat to endangered steelhead is being killed as bycatch from gill nets strung across the Fraser River to catch salmon. Scientists and experts have shown there are better fishing methods that will not kill steelhead and other endangered fish like sturgeon as bycatch. But no one will listen, and no one in power will act fast enough.
Today, October 4th, 2019, an announcement was made that Canada’s Pacific salmon industry is withdrawing from the Marine Stewardship Council certification program for British Columbia’s sockeye, pink and chum pacific fisheries. Certification meant that fish caught in BC could be marketed under the Blue MSC label to show consumers that the wild salmon were caught from a sustainable fishery.
Is it time for Canadians to vote for the Steelhead Party of Canada? Or maybe the Caribou Party or the Southern Resident Killer Whale Party. Maybe you like the upcoming Chinook Salmon or Sockeye Salmon Parties and their leaders.
Canadians have the power to change the course of conservation history for the steelhead in this federal election. You simply need to ask the candidates whether they support:
1) Listing the Interior Fraser Steelhead as endangered species and,
2) Prohibiting the use of gill nets on the Fraser River.
Then vote for the one that says yes to both questions.
I hope to live long enough to see a political party named the Steelhead Party of Canada. In the meantime, concerned Canadians should be voting on behalf of the steelhead.
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