Oceans Protection Plan includes boost to Fisheries Department, coast guard

New lifeboat stations, support for coastal habitat restoration and a bolstering of the federal Fisheries Department and Canadian Coast Guard were all part of a significant funding announcement that Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc made in Victoria Wednesday.

The announcement comes at the same time that local salmon enhancement groups say they were blindsided by news their program funding would be cancelled and the Canadian Coast Guard’s dive team would be reassigned to other duties.

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LeBlanc announced $108.1 million over five years to establish seven new lifeboat stations, at Victoria, Hartley Bay, Port Renfrew and Nootka Sound near Gold River, plus three in Newfoundland and Labrador, $75 million for habitat restoration for species such as Pacific salmon, and 24/7 emergency-response support for existing Canadian Coast Guard stations.

Another $6.85 million over five years will be used to remove derelict boats and educate boaters to prevent vessels from being discarded.

The funding is part of the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, originally announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November, two weeks before he gave the green light to Kinder Morgan’s contentious Trans Mountain pipeline-expansion project.

LeBlanc said the federal funding will be allocated whether or not Trans Mountain — which the B.C. NDP and Green parties have committed to block — moves forward.

“The investments we’ve made are not contingent on one particular natural resource project. They’re done after careful analysis, including scientific analysis, of what are the best marine protections,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc said a separate $1.4 billion would be used to “rehabilitate” the federal fisheries department and Canadian Coast Guard after years of cuts.

The boost includes a 15 per cent increase in coast guard staffing within the next two years, and upgrading fleets, communications equipment and technology.

“No longer will our scientists be working under leaky roofs or using dial-up Internet and no longer will our coast guard staff have to go on vessels that haven’t been properly maintained,” LeBlanc said.

But some local groups say the announcement is at odds with the ministry’s decision to cut funding to some salmon-enhancement projects.

The Stream to Sea Education Program, which involves 35,000 students in B.C. and Yukon each year, will have its education support contracts terminated.

Ian Bruce, executive co-ordinator with the Peninsula Streams Society, said the $400,000-a-year program gave students an important, first-hand introduction to important salmon species.

In Greater Victoria and the Gulf Islands, about 3,000 students in 105 classrooms have helped raise Pacific salmon in classroom incubators for release in 15 local streams, as well as marking storm drains for public awareness.

“The cuts to the salmon-enhancement program impair our ability to deliver technical projects, as well as environmental education,” he said.

Bruce, the southern Vancouver Island representative for the salmon enhancement advisory board, which meets three times each year to advise the minister about salmon enhancement, said the board had no warning of the cut. “It just came down all of a sudden,” he said.

Other cuts will eliminate contract biological and technical-support positions.

Peter McCully, a fish-culture consultant who gave support to hatcheries and habitat-restoration projects from Port Renfrew to Cowichan Lake, including the Goldstream hatchery, said he was told his contract will conclude July 31.

LeBlanc said the Stream to Sea program is “a small piece of the salmonid enhancement program” that wasn’t core to the department’s regulatory mandate.

At the same time, he said the government is committed to doing more salmon enhancement, not less — even if some community programs lose funding.

“We recognize the volunteers, community groups, streamkeepers and classrooms that look after salmon estuaries have done phenomenal work,” he said.

“As we focus on restoring lost protections in the Fisheries Act, as we focus on rebuilding habitat-management capacity in our department, our government will outline better and frankly more significant investments in the months ahead, as to how we intend to partner with these community groups to ensure this important work is not lost and in fact is continued and strengthened in the years ahead.”

On Monday, the union representing workers on the Canadian Coast Guard’s dive team said cutbacks could have serious consequences.

The Richmond-based Sea Island emergency crew, which is responsible for rescue and recovery of people trapped in boats and cars that are under water, is being reassigned, on the grounds that it’s not part of the coast guard’s core mandate.

Others spoke in favour of the announced funding, which is the largest dedicated to ocean health in decades.

“I’m very pleased with the announcement today,” said former Victoria Liberal MP David Anderson.

“Obviously, we have to replace some of the cuts that were made with new measures and improving the training and ships. New ships are also necessary. We have many fisheries issues that need attention, scientific work that needs to be done, which has been generally neglected in the last few years.”


Oceans Protection Plan

• $75 million to establish a coastal restoration fund over five years to support marine habitat restoration and threats to marine species such as Pacific salmon. Call opened for expressions of interest for large-scale projects, which will be selected and announced in coming weeks.

• $108.1 million over five years to establish seven new lifeboat stations, with ongoing funding of $12.1 million. Hartley Bay was added as a location to previously announced Victoria, Port Renfrew and Nootka Sound in B.C., plus three in Newfoundland and Labrador.

• New 24/7 capacity for Coast Guard National Command Centre in Ottawa, plus increased capacity for existing regional centres’ 24/7 emergency co-ordination capacity at Victoria, Montreal and St. John’s through increased staffing. Focus on monitoring and responding to marine pollution incidents.

• Five-year, $6.85-million fund to prevent and clean up abandoned and derelict vessels. One part is for removing existing high-priority vessels, while another is for educating boaters about their responsibilities. Includes $1.3 million over the next five years to support harbour authorities and other eligible recipients to help with removal and disposal costs.

• Marc Grégoire, a former commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, will review the Pilotage Act, with a focus on tariffs, service delivery, governance and dispute resolution.

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