The West Coast’s salmon populations are in dire need of support, but local groups are struggling to get Ottawa’s attention on the issue.
Canada’s Federal Government announced a Coastal Restoration Fund last year and pledged to provide $75 million over five years to support habitat restoration projects throughout the country.
When that announcement was made, the Clayoquot Salmon Roundtable, which represents a variety of West Coast governments and organizations working together to restore local salmon habitats, got to work on the application process, but was recently dismayed to learn their efforts had come up empty.
“Clayoquot Sound didn’t get a penny,” said Tofino mayor Josie Osborne. “I was certainly disappointed…Clayoquot Sound is a high profile area. It’s really well known. It has a lot of diligent hard working dedicated people here that have a passion for salmon.”
The Central Westcoast Forest Society’s executive director and roundtable member Jessica Hutchinson said she was surprised to see no funding coming the West Coast’s way.
“We here recognize the importance of salmon to our communities but, perhaps, that value isn’t well recognized in Ottawa,” she said.
She said Clayoquot Sound’s salmon populations are “drastically declining.”
Chinook populations hit record lows this year, according to Hutchinson who said the Tranquil Watershed, which has historically supported thousands of Chinook, saw a return of just 64 and added that the Kennedy Watershed saw zero sockeye return.
“We really need Ottawa to come to the table to not only bring funding and support, but to recognize the importance and the value of salmon to the West Coast way of life, to West Coast culture, to First Nations culture, to our economy and to recognize that value and invest in it for the future,” she said.
“I think the first course of action is really that we want to gain community support and increase awareness of these low stocks and these dwindling salmon populations and really to build momentum so that we can reach out to politicians back east and get their attention before it’s too late.”
Osborne said the roundtable met with Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns last month to hear his ideas around promoting the region’s wild salmon issues to gain Ottawa’s attention.
“This is important. It’s really the very lifeblood of so many people here in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound,” Osborne said. “I know that whales and marine mammals in general are very charismatic but, when it really comes down to culture, history, connection to the ocean, food and the ability to sustain ourselves as people, salmon is the species.”
Johns told the Westerly News he was happy to meet with the roundtable, hear their concerns and help hammer out a strategy.
“What we’ve decided to do is work collectively so we can create a campaign, raise awareness about how serious the situation is and the challenges our fish face,” he said. “We can contribute to the restoration of our fish through stream and salmon restoration and habitat protection and enhancement programs, if we’re given the resources.”
He said the West Coast’s salmon face “urgent threat,” and that he too was surprised Clayoquot Sound had been snubbed by the federal government, though he added many other communities were blanked as well.
“They had $310 million worth of applications for a $75 million dollar fund and they’ve only rolled out $38 million so far,” he said of the federal government’s Coastal Restoration Fund.
He suggested the Clayoquot Salmon Roundtable is a unique group that could become a significant success story for the federal government.
“It is a region that is definitely working together. That is very rare and really a shining example,” he said.
“For the government to not resource a region that is wanting to walk together through reconciliation with our fish is just tragic. This is an incredibly opportune time and it’s a missed opportunity for the Government of Canada to not invest now, facing this crisis that we’re having with our fish.”
He said the West Coast, through the roundtable, must collaborate on a unified push for funding.
“As far away as we are from Ottawa, we have to go the extra mile,” he said. “We have to do everything we can and throw everything at government for them to see us and hear us on our issues.”
Osborne said a key to moving forward will be keeping the conversation on-topic.
“For me, something that is quite important in this is that we try to figure out a road forward where we can have conversations about salmon, and wild salmon in particular, that don’t become mired in some of the hyperbole and rhetoric out there about salmon aquaculture,” she said.
“This is strictly around the quality of salmon habitat and the importance of restoring salmon habitat…That’s certainly not to say that issues like aquaculture or climate change, oceanic conditions and harvesting are not affecting the ability of wild salmon species to survive, but this particular conversation is focused on the habitat.”