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The future of SEP as revealed in DFO ATIP
Thu Aug 2, 2018 11:53am

SEP: ATIP DFO document contents do not provide certainty or comfort

EXCLUSIVE: The future of our fish
DFO internal documents leave more questions than answers

Jennifer Thuncher
Records The Chief obtained through an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request raise questions about the DFO’s core mandate, who is making the decisions and how long last year’s reinstatement of programs essential to fish habitat in the Sea to Sky Corridor will last.

The stack of documents contains more than 1,000 pages — some redacted — of year-old correspondence between mostly senior western DFO managers. Throughout much of it, these managers ponder how to strategically explain the now-reversed federal government decision to cut the Salmonid Enhancement Program and the Resource Restoration Unit.

While the department of the federal government is now officially called Fisheries and Oceans Canada, many within the government and the public still refer to it as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), so that is what is used here.

In late May of 2017, it was revealed the DFO planned to eliminate its Resource Restoration Unit, along with two other Salmonid Enhancement Program components — the Education and Technical Support Contracts and the production of steelhead and cutthroat trout at Salmon Enhancement Program hatcheries.

The Resource Restoration Unit was scheduled to be phased out over three years.

The cuts impacted the decades-old Stream to Sea program, which is a B.C. salmon education initiative that many B.C. students move through.

“Following Budget 2016, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard conducted a thorough review of its programs and services to determine if our work was aligned with our core mandate or if there were options for reallocation,” a DFO spokesperson told The Chief on May 29, 2017.

The cuts were said to save an ongoing $3.2 million. “The Salmonid Enhancement Program is undergoing reductions to better align with DFO’s core mandate in terms of regulatory responsibilities.”

The government announced it had reversed the cuts, after an outcry from educators and conservationists, including the Squamish River Watershed Society.

But pressed last week if programs have been reinstated permanently, the department did not reply definitively.

[See The Chief’s queries and the DFOs answers at the end of this article.]

B.C. conservationists say these programs are central to the protection of wild fish and their habitat.

“At the heart of both programs are connections between department staff and communities; personal, professional relationships that have taken years to develop and cannot be easily or quickly replaced,” said, Aaron Hill, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society in a letter to the federal government when the cuts were first announced.

“Both programs have helped produce long-term strategies and projects for hundreds of streams and salmon populations, benefiting our ecosystems, our tourism industry, our fisheries.”

For those not familiar with the programs, here’s a brief explainer.

“The Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) plays a key role in DFO’s work to conserve and manage Pacific salmon stocks. The program’s activities aim to rebuild vulnerable salmon stocks, provide harvest opportunities, work with First Nations and coastal communities in economic development, and improve fish habitat to sustain salmon populations,” reads the federal government’s own definition.

The Resource Restoration Unit designs projects, possesses water licences and owns all of the physical infrastructure related to their projects. This may include culverts and intakes through dikes that convey water into spawning channels. As well, the unit sets the project priorities in partnership with local fisheries conservation groups.

In the Sea to Sky Corridor, the restoration unit was central to the Squamish Nation projects on the Seymour River with the Seymour River Slide Remediation and with Mosquito Creek estuary improvements.

Conservationists say the DFO has been the primary moving force behind the significant salmon enhancement projects locally, including installation of culverts across the Training Dike (The Spit); four intake structures and the associated off-channel habitats on the Cheakamus River in the Dave Marshall Salmon Reserve and the two intakes on the Mamquam River that allow water to flow south through to the Mamquam Blind Channel on the north side to feed the downstream section of the Golf Course Channels that DFO staff built in the 1980 and 1990s.

Of note, in some of the talking points in the ATIP documents, it is implied that local groups, such as the Squamish River Watershed Society, would be able to carry on the work of the resource unit were the programs to end. While the society is nonpolitical and declined to comment on anything regarding the cuts or the information in the ATIP documents, the organization did send a statement about the group’s ability to fill the role of the restoration unit should it be cut.

“It is presumptuous for DFO to assume that local stewardship groups like the SRWS and any other environmental non-government organization could take over the unit’s work. Most groups, including the SRWS, do not have the technical capacity to take on the role of the Resource Restoration Unit, nor are we legally set up to do so,” read a statement from the society.

The documents obtained by The Chief include memos, talking points and emails mostly dated in May and early June of 2017.

Below is the full contents of the ATIP. The article continues below.

They show that those at the head of the western branch of the department seem most concerned about public appearances and how to quell the unanticipated public outcry than about the on the ground repercussions of the cuts.

“I support the notion that we tell people the whole story rather than just year one. Otherwise, it will be three years of bad news. Let’s get this over with,” wrote Rebecca Reid, the department’s regional director general on May 27 in an email to other DFO staff.

“Can you please do a quick disaster check on the SEP storyline and only flag stuff if it sets your hair on fire,” wrote an Eleanor Cameron, special projects officer with the DFO in another May email while staff was working to organize talking points on the cuts.

The documents do not detail who made the decisions, how the decisions to cut were reached or how the work the restoration unit does would be replaced.

Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries and oceans, announced in mid-June, 2017 that the government was reversing the cuts.

When the cuts were reversed, the question remained as to whether the reinstatement of the programs would be permanent.

After poring through the ATIP documents, The Chief posed several questions to the DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada).

The Chief questions:

*Is the reinstatement of the Salmonid Enhancement Program and Fisheries and Oceans Resource Restoration Unit permanent? Or is there a sunset for these programs?

*Who made the decision to cut the program originally? Who is in charge within the DFO of determining these things?

*Who were the “technical experts” who were contacted for the comprehensive review? (Local experts tell us they weren’t contacted.)

*Many times in the documents it says that the SEP/RRUnit does not meet the DFO’s core mandate. What exactly is the core mandate they don’t meet?

*Under the New Fisheries Act (Bill C-68), doesn’t the Resource Restoration Unit fit directly into that regulatory framework, particularly with respect to a)habitat banks and b)preparation of fish habitat restoration plans?

*How was it imagined the recommendations of the Cohen Commission could be met by these cuts when Cohen recommended, “A net gain of habitat by conserving existing habitat, restoring damaged habitat and developing new habitats.” The Resource Restoration Unit does exactly that, does it not?

*Many of the new programs, the Ocean Protection Plan and the Coastal Restoration Fund have funding that sunsets, so then what? What are the legacy or long-term plans to protect wild salmon?

Fisheries and Oceans Canada emailed reply:

*The preservation and restoration of salmon habitat is fundamental to ensure that the Pacific coast has salmon for generations to come. The Government’s commitment and long-term support for salmon conservation in the Pacific region is demonstrated by the significant annual investment that is made on a wide range of activities including fisheries science, protection of fisheries habitat, salmon enhancement, catch monitoring, and enforcement.

*Fisheries and Oceans Canada is committed to the conservation of wild Pacific salmon. The major activities under the Salmonid Enhancement Program will continue to include: the educational and technical contracts that support Stream to Sea and Salmonids in the Classroom; the SEP Resource Restoration Unit; and hatchery production of salmon from DFO and community facilities that support stock recovery, stock assessment, and recreational, commercial, and First Nations harvest access.

*The Department is developing a five-year implementation plan, in consultation with Indigenous groups, stakeholders and the public that sets out activities to be undertaken from 2018-2022 to support the goal and objectives of the Wild Salmon Policy (WSP).

*The Coastal Restoration Fund, a part of the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, is a $75-million investment in the preservation, protection and restoration of marine environments and coastal habitat, which will continue to provide ecological benefits for years to come.

* Under a renewed Fisheries Act, there would be a new regulation-making authority for the consideration of restoration as a priority for offsetting projects.

Sent the same questions as put to the DFO this week, Jonathan Wilkinson, the newly appointed minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, did not respond by press deadline.

pix@ Copyright 2018 Squamish Chief

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