As co-chair of the Parliamentary Outdoor Caucus, I firmly believe that when it comes to making decisions about marine protection and sustainability, these decisions must be based on scientific data and transparent consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
That is why I spoke out against the Liberal government’s disappointing 2020 Fraser River Chinook plan at the Public Fishery Alliance Sustainable Fisheries Rally in Vancouver last month.
Instead of presenting and implementing a comprehensive recovery strategy, the Liberals have chosen to once again, in many cases, place further unnecessary restrictions on fishing opportunities for British Columbians, ignoring viable, balanced proposals and the advice of experts with years of experience. This includes their own department scientists who recommended that they not implement these closures.
This decision punishes those who not only care about conservation, but who are also at the forefront of grassroots conservation projects across the province. It also effectively shuts down the livelihoods of those in the region that rely on fishing to put food on their table.
All British Columbians want to see the Fraser River Chinook salmon survive and flourish. Unfortunately, it is due to the Liberal government’s delayed responses at the Big Bar slide as well as other measures that we are in this position in the first place.
They have failed to deal with under-treated sewage in rivers and estuaries. They have failed to manage out of control predator populations. They have failed to deliver the increased resources they promised for preventing aquatic invasive species proliferation in British Columbia. They have failed to deliver a promised Aquaculture Act. And, they have failed to provide the will and resources for enforcement to fight illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing that threatens our salmon stocks, including those most at risk.
When we look at the state of our Pacific salmon, steelhead, and other stocks, it is clear that the Liberals’ approach to conservation isn’t working.
In order to achieve better outcomes in conservation and restoration, I believe we must build on proven successes where partnerships between the recreational fishing industry, government biologists, Indigenous leaders, and concerned anglers have greatly benefitted fish populations and their aquatic environments. As we know, it is often the local anglers themselves who volunteer their time and effort to support and protect our public waters.
Instead of shutting the door to this type of co-operation, as this Liberal government continues to do, we should be working with these experts, learning from their experiences and expertise, and using this knowledge to help effectively protect our waterways. This includes supporting promising proposals like marked selective fisheries that would allow fishing to continue while increasing salmon stocks for the future.
Experienced anglers have also pointed to an abundance of stocks in areas like the Chilliwack/Vedder River, the Qualicum River, the Cowichan River, the Capilano River, the Stamp River, as well as Puget Sound and the Columbia River.
The Sport Fishing Advisory Boards set up by the federal government worked hard putting together detailed plans that would balance the interests of stakeholders. In 2019 and 2020, after supplying the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with competent advice, these recommendations have been largely ignored. Most of these advisory board members have provided their services voluntarily and with this decision have been left asking, why should they bother? However, they stay engaged because they care about the resource.
It is clear that the Liberal government has no real plan to restore British Columbia’s salmon stocks and, with the release of the 2020 Fraser River Chinook plan, are continuing on a path of failure that won’t truly address the causes of salmon stock declines.
In 2019, similar restrictions in British Columbia largely shut down sport fishery and related tourism industry including hotels, restaurants, resorts, engine suppliers, repair shops, guides and outfitters. This is an industry that is directly connected to 9,000 jobs in the province and over one billion dollars in revenues annually.
It is time for this government to stop scapegoating British Columbian anglers for its disastrous efforts to protect our salmon. This has only raised tensions on all sides unnecessarily.
We as British Columbians must all work together to demand a real plan from the Liberal government so that we can reach our common goal of a successful fishery that is accessible to everyone.
Bob Zimmer is the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies, and Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Outdoor Caucus.