Friday, January 16, 2009

NCSA letter to MOE Minister Penner re: steelhead advocacy

Efforts continue over the winter to make sure bureaucrats responsible for steelhead make visible efforts to protect and advocate for them. Here is a letter to this regard we sent in cooperation with the NBC Steelhead Guides Assoc. to MOE Minister Barry Penner yesterday.
It also inquires into the mysterious Oceans and Marine Division of MOE who have some role in liasing with DFO on certain issues. We'll keep you posted on any reply we receive.

Barry Penner
Ministry of Environment
Victoria, BC

Dear Minister Penner,

I am the current Chair of the North Coast Steelhead Alliance and the Contact Person for the Northern BC Steelhead Guides Association. In these capacities I am heavily involved in issues regarding Skeena steelhead conservation and advocacy for the sportfishing guiding industry.

As you might be aware, the most pressing issue for Skeena steelhead is the continuing negative impacts of the mixed stock fishery at the mouth of the Skeena river, where steelhead are caught incidentally by commercial fishermen targeting sockeye and pink salmon. This has been going on since the turn of the last century and on average it sees from 1/3 to 1/2 of the returning steelhead in any given year killed unnecessarily as bycatch.

This bycatch not only negatively impacts the individual stocks of steelhead, especially the early returning fish, but also the associated sportfishery that has grown to depend on a consistent supply of these fish. Those early returning steelhead are the most important to the sportfishery as they arrive the earliest and stay the longest thus providing a major percentage of the fish 'product' available to our industry. Recent economic studies show that the Skeena steelhead and salmon sportfishery generates approximately $52.8 million per year in economic activity. The same Report (attached for your review) showed the commercial fishery generated only $15.2 million over the study period.

Given this information, our groups are quite concerned over the lack of support and advocacy that both the steelhead and the associated sportfishery receive from your Ministry. Why is it that such an important creature that can generate substantial economic activity for the northern part of the Province, and whose management responsibility lies with your Ministry, receives so little in the way of conservation protection and political advocacy from your Ministry?

Groups like ours that actively lobby the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for steelhead conservation and acknowledgement of its important economic contribution from government are deeply disappointed with the level of support Skeena steelhead have received from your Ministry.

The lack of advocacy might be due to the convoluted structure of your Ministry and the differing priorities within separate divisions.(i.e. Environmental Stewardship versus Ocean and Marine Fisheries Division) Could you please inform us of the respective roles of these two Divisions relative to Skeena steelhead conservation and the ongoing steelhead by-catch issue? It does not go unnoticed that current and former officials of the OMFD were formerly employed by DFO. This creates a perception, among some, that the OFMD is more closely aligned with commercial fishery interests and competing with the interests and objectives of ESD. Just what is the OFMD's position or stated policy on steelhead conservation and the commercial bycatch issue and what is the connection, if any, between regional front line staff of ESD and the Victoria based OMFD?

This spring will be an important time in management planning for the 2009 commercial fishery, particularly things like the Skeena Watershed Initiative and DFO's IFMP process. It would be beneficial for Skeena steelhead if your Ministry took a more proactive, assertive role in advocating for conservation measures that would ameliorate the effects of the commercial fishery on them. And given the recent economic downturn, a forecast of poor steelhead returns in 2009, and the uncertainty generated by the Quality Waters Process, our industry is facing a potentially dismal 2009 season. Measures visible to the public and the sport fishing marketplace are desperately needed to support local economies in these difficult economic times.
A leadership opportunity exists in this situation for the Province to strongly support what many feel should be the 'Provincial fish', and support the truly sustainable sportfishing tourism industry. Remember, all wild steelhead are managed on a catch and release basis, a result of your Ministry's strong leadership short years ago. Advocating for saving those same wild steelhead from harvest in an incredibly wasteful, unsustainable gillnet commercial fishery should be an easy and obvious choice for your Ministry. A steelhead killed in a gillnet is worth zero to the Province yet our sportfishery can generate orders of magnitude more economic benefit from that one fish.

Our groups implore you to please allow or empower all your Ministry staff involved with Skeena steelhead, or these various planning processes, to advocate more strongly for the fish and the sportfishery. This is entirely in keeping with Premier Campbell’s commitment to “the best fisheries management, bar none” and morever costs the Ministry nothing to employ.
Thank you very much.

Yours truly,

North Coast Steelhead Alliance
Northern BC Steelhead Guides Association
Smithers, BC

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