B.C. “Pacific Salmon Forum” – $5 million air pie?

Last January (2009) a final report was released by the seven-member Pacific Salmon Forum (link is only good until March 2010) and submitted to the British Columbia Provincial Government. The Forum was formed in 2004 with a budget of $5-million. Since the report was submitted — it seems to have gone the way of the 9 million sockeye that were forecast to return to the Fraser River.

Gone, nadda…. air pie.

What’s the story?

About seven years ago in 2003, the federal and BC Provincial governments agreed to implement a Salmon Aquaculture Forum. “The purpose of this forum would be to improve public dialogue and see constructive solutions to controversies associated with salmon aquaculture.

Nothing happened.

In 2004, the Auditor General of Canada, and the Auditor Generals of New Brunswick and British Columbia released three separate reports on salmon-related issues.

These reports basically slapped the wrists of the federal government and Fisheries and Oceans Canada — and the Provincial governments in their role (or lack of) in looking after wild salmon and the impacts of salmon aquaculture.

Key findings in the BC report were: “the management of shared responsibilities for wild salmon needs to be guided by a clear vision; that the province needs to be more active in protecting and restoring fish habitat; and that potential impacts of aquaculture are being addressed, but that more knowledge is required to improve management practices.

In late 2004, Gordon Campbell the Premier of British Columbia made an announcement of a $5-million investment in an independent panel of seven individuals “who would provide the direction required to enable the Province to realize the vision of an inclusive fishery sector that is financially viable“.

This seemed rather odd… the federal government has the mandate to conserve wild salmon, manage salmon fisheries, and look after salmon habitat — not the provincial government. These responsibilities were determined in the early years of Canada’s history. So it didn’t make sense to me that the Province was investing $5-million investigating something that is not their responsibility.

Regardless, the BC Pacific Salmon Forum was established by the Government of British Columbia in 2004 as an independent citizen body “using science and stakeholder dialogue to advance the sustainable governance of BC Pacific salmon.”  The Forum was asked to develop recommendations to:

• Protect and enhance the viability of wild salmon stocks and their economic, social and environmental benefits to British Columbians;
• Enhance the economic, social and environmental sustainability of aquaculture for all coastal communities;
• Increase public confidence in fisheries management generally, and aquaculture in particular, within the marine environment.

These mandates were  translated into three primary strategic areas: sustainable wild salmon; sustainable aquaculture; and building public confidence.

In June 2007, the Panel released a nine-page Interim Report. In January 2009 — over one year ago — the almost 100 page final report was released and submitted to government. Some of the key recommendations from the report include:

  • ecosystem-based approach for managing all resource industries – including salmon farming;
  • shifts to a new governance system that incorporate cumulative impacts to ecosystems and get rid of government silos; and
  • building public trust in government management of wild and farmed salmon.

There is some strong recommendations throughout the report based on all sorts of public consultation, work with leading scientists, consultation with government officials and workers, and consultation with various industry folks — as well as presentations at numerous conferences and workshops.

One of the strongest statements I found early in the final report:

The recommendations made by the Forum in this report are all designed to improve public confidence that wild salmon will survive and thrive in British Columbia; that we’ll be able to buy wild salmon in our supermarkets and restaurants or go fishing for salmon with our families and friends while communities throughout the province benefit from the associated economic activity involved.

…We believe that our recommendations on public confidence will increase public trust that difficult choices ahead will be made sensibly, openly and transparently, and in light of the best possible.

Unfortunately, I don’t think having to buy Russian wild salmon in Vancouver supermarkets, or catching salmon pumped out of hatcheries, and economic activity that is largely a net-loss is really garnering more public trust.

Further into the report there is an entire section dedicated to “Building Public Trust”. And not surprisingly:

The Forum’s work over the past four years has told us that British Columbians are deeply skeptical that wild and farmed salmon are well-managed.

And if you’ve read other posts on this site — you may have noticed I am one of those harboring some skepticism. From the final report:

This skepticism has been fed by long-standing criticism of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s management of wild salmon, concern over wild salmon returns and access to the fishery, the expansion of salmon farming, watershed development, uncertainty over First Nations’ rights, and by public cynicism towards government.

It has been complicated by conflicting science, sensational media reports and the lack of any open process to set priorities. Many people have begun to fear that the fight to save wild salmon is too big, too difficult and too overwhelming – that nothing can be done.

There is some irony in these statements.

This report was released in January 2009. Currently, on the website for the $5-million Pacific Salmon Forum it states:

NOTICE: The BC Pacific Salmon Forum completed its mandate to the Province of British Columbia with the delivery of a FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS in January, 2009. The Forum is, therefore, closing its operations as of March 27, 2009. This website will remain active until March 2010.

I have searched around and can not find a single mention of the Pacific Salmon Forum in any BC government documents or proceedings following release of the Final Report over a year ago.

So once the website disappears — what will become of the $5 million worth of consultations, research and reports?

One more stack of paper gathering dust in government archives….?

Any one know what is happening to this 100-page report and long list of pretty darn good recommendations?

And how about that public trust?

Nothing like air pie for dessert to build public trust…

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