Heavy sedimentation and debris from last summer’s fires barricaded the Bonaparte River fishway to steelhead spawning grounds. The fish have since been declined a listing under the Species at Risk Act after an emergency assessment in early 2018 confirmed the species are at imminent risk of extinction. (Black Press file photo)

B.C. Liberals accuse NDP government of continued neglect over dwindling steelhead populations

Province defends actions, points finger at Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The BC Liberals Steelhead Caucus is calling on the NDP government to do more to protect the province’s wild steelhead populations.

Citing the federal government’s financial support of wild B.C. salmon conservation projects, Steelhead Caucus co-chair Jackie Tegart issued a statement demanding similar action from the province over the iconic trout species.

“The BC Liberal Steelhead Caucus has been calling on the Province for years to protect this valuable species and it is encouraging to see the federal government taking real steps to support fish populations here in B.C. — but there is still more that needs to be done,” said Tegart, the Fraser-Nicola MLA. “The NDP has been ignoring this issue for years and we need to see them take immediate action or this iconic species will be lost forever.”

READ MORE: Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

B.C.’s Steelhead population have been in dramatic decline for decades due in part to habitat loss and bycatch mortality from salmon fisheries.

In an emailed statement from B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, a spokesperson defended the province’s actions over Interior Fraser Steelhead populations, saying the government is “extremely concerned” with the state of the species.

He said while the province has oversight of freshwater fish, the actions of other parties impact steelhead mortality. For that reason, he added, the province is building a multi-party management plan that includes a memorandum of understanding with the First Nations Fisheries Council and a Joint Action Plan with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

READ MORE: Threats to the Fraser River at ‘new zenith,’ says river conservationist

That plan has been mired in controversy with accusations from the province last year that DFO was not closing salmon fisheries in waters shared by migrating steelhead, resulting in bycatch deaths.

The federal government also rejected a recommendation by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada to list the Thompson and Chilcotin Steelhead populations as endangered under the Species at Risk Act, saying the listing would not produce desired outcomes comparative to a long-term action plan with the province of British Columbia.

This year the province expects 95 per cent of the run will be protected for most of its 82-day run time, but maintains the federal government’s conservation measures still fall short of the level of protection needed to give the species a chance to recover.

Within the next few weeks the B.C. government said it will release an online platform with the aim of improving public access to management information, science fact sheets and progress updates.



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

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