Cynical election-cycle spending does not undo years of deregulation, neglect, & mismanagement.
It’s an election year, and so with the predictability of a flood tide, the federal government is now making cynical funding announcements and hoping that when it comes to their stewardship of wild Pacific salmon, British Columbians will have short memories.
The $18 million in funding announced today in Vancouver will do very little to make up for the years of deregulation, neglect and mismanagement we’ve seen from DFO with respect to wild salmon over the last few years. While a portion of the funds announced today will go towards useful research, most of it appears earmarked for basic, necessary upkeep to existing facilities.
To put today’s announcement in context, the feds announced $100 million in budget cuts to DFO in 2013. Those cuts were spread out over several years, with the biggest cuts starting this year. DFO field offices and Coast Guard bases are being closed across BC, and there aren’t enough resources to properly look after our fish and oceans.
Here are a couple of examples. In 2013 we exposed rampant violations of fishing regulations in one of Canada’s largest commercial salmon fisheries, where no enforcement officers were present, and DFO ignored our requests to take action. We recently reported a large fuel slick coming from a pair of sunken boats near Victoria, and it took the Coast Guard a week to return our call. The official we spoke with admitted they were understaffed. Unfortunately, stories like this are just too common.
Meanwhile, the feds weakened legal protection for wild salmon and other fish and wildlife through major changes to the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. They’ve been successfully sued for failing to implement recovery strategies for endangered species under the Species at Risk Act, and for allowing diseased farmed salmon to be placed on the migration routes of wild salmon. They spent $37 million of taxpayer money on the Cohen Commission and two and a half years after Justice Cohen issued his final report, they have only acted on a handful of his recommendations. Many of Cohen’s 75 recommendations involve implementation of Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy which was introduced in 2005, and is still far from being fully implemented. They have also opened to the door to expanding the open-netcage salmon farming industry and its proven risks to wild salmon; they have increased the amount of overfishing that can occur on endangered salmon runs; they have approved numerous development projects, like the Northern Gateway Pipelines and the massive KSM open pit mine, that pose unacceptable risks to wild salmon; and they have failed to take meaningful action on climate change, which is arguably the biggest threat of all to our wild salmon and the lakes, rivers, and ocean they inhabit.
We could go on. The bottom line is that today’s funding announcement for research infrastructure by Fisheries Minister Gail Shea was a missed opportunity. A 2011 poll by Angus Reid found that 70% of British Columbians agree that “Wild salmon are as important to the people of B.C. as the French language is to the people of Quebec.” She’s going to have to do a lot more to impress us over here in salmon country.