Critics fear the federal government is planning to weaken a major salmon conservation plan that guides protection of the embattled fish.
The government announced it would adopt the recommendations of the Cohen Commission, a 2012 study detailing safeguards to protect sockeye salmon in the Fraser River and apply them across the province at Vancouver press conference Tuesday.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada said all 75 of the commission's recommendations will be implemented and almost 30 scientists added to DFO staff to work on implementation.
Aaron Hill of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society said he’s generally happy with the DFO initiative.
But he doesn't understand why the government’s plan includes changing a major fisheries document to reflect weaker salmon-protection laws introduced by the former Conservative government—especially when the Liberals have promised to change the laws.
Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Ottawa will start consultations to update the 10-year-old Policy for the Conservation of Wild Salmon (also known as the Wild Salmon Policy) Wild Salmon Policy this autumn.
The DFO says the update will include a look at proposed changes to reflect current fisheries legislation.
Hill said he can’t understand why the government is planning to change the Wild Salmon Policy to reflect “weakened” laws.
“They've said they're going to replace lost protections, so it's kind of mysterious why they would defer action on protection of habitat if they're planning on doing that,” Hill said.
The Wild Salmon Policy is “great,” he said, and doesn't need to be revamped. “We need to implement it as it is and not change it to align with weakened habitat legislation.”
The Liberal Party has promised to restore lost fish habitat protection, even including the commitment in its election platform. LeBlanc reiterated the commitment during his announcement Tuesday.
But Michael Meneer, vice-president of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, said he can understand the government's desire to update the plan.
Meneer agreed the protection plan is an “excellent policy,” but added the foundation would welcome a chance to give input into an update of the policy, now more than 10 years old.
“It makes sense from our perspective that it be revisited,” he said.
The Tyee asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada why it would change the Wild Salmon Plan to conform to laws the government said promised to change, but did not received a response.
A previous query on the implementation of the Cohen Commission recommendations was answered with a link to the nearly 14,000-word progress report on the initiative.
Hill said he remains wary about the Liberals’ intentions.
He said despite being happy the government “did the right thing” in taking steps to implement Cohen recommendations, his group will need to see more than “business as usual” from Ottawa if it truly intends to deliver on the promises made Tuesday.
“A cynical person would surmise that they want to keep all of the fluffy verbiage and do away with the concrete actions that will actually result in work getting done to conserve and rebuild B.C.’s wild salmon and their habitats,” he said.
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