Students to keep raising salmon after cuts reversed

Salmon enhancement advocates are celebrating a decision to reverse cuts to programs that bring salmon into classrooms and provide support to hatcheries.

Burnaby North-Seymour Liberal MP Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, announced Thursday that the federal government had reversed the cuts and scrapped plans to eliminate the 26-member Sea Island dive team.

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Scientists and educators in three areas of the salmonid enhancement program were told in May that their programs would be cut or were vulnerable to cuts, including a $400,000-a-year project that teaches 35,000 students in B.C. and Yukon classrooms each year about salmon.

But those who receive termination notices can ignore them, Beech said. “All those programs are continuing. The minister values all those programs very much, and we’re looking at ways we can invest in them more,” he said.

In addition to the education program, in which students help raise Pacific salmon in classroom incubators for release in local streams, 16 resource restoration-unit employees, comprising pairs of biologists and engineers who advise community groups and Fisheries and Oceans Canada internally on projects, were threatened by the cuts.

The third group included technical advisers who support hatcheries and habitat-restoration projects across the province.

Program administrators and employees were given notice after a treasury-board review found several programs did not fit the “core mandate” of the fisheries department. But beyond the budgetary process, Beech said, the public consultation wasn’t complete and the ministry does, in fact, wish to continue the programs.

“We’ve listened and we understand how important these programs are, especially the ones that get so much leverage from volunteers across the province,” said Beech, who grew up in Victoria and said he benefited from similar programs as a student.

Further, he said, those programs will benefit from part of a $75-million coastal restoration fund, announced as part of the Oceans Protection Plan.

Ian Bruce, the executive co-ordinator of the Peninsula Streams Society and a member of a provincial salmon enhancement advisory board, greeted the news with relief. “It’s a great moment that Fisheries has decided to reinstate the programs, because they’re probably the last programs that should have been cut,” he said.

Cutting the dive team would have saved the Coast Guard about $500,000 a year, while leaving the region less prepared to respond to emergencies where dives are required.

NDPMP Fin Donnelly, his party’s fisheries and oceans critic, said the federal Liberals backed down in response to pressure from his party as well as B.C. voters.

Conservative Party fisheries critic Todd Doherty, MP for Cariboo-Prince George, credited a grassroots movement for stopping the cuts. It’s thanks to “our teachers, parents and our conservationists who wrote in and put pressure on the government that we are seeing a reversal of these terrible decisions to cut programs that keep our Canadians safe, and ensure that our oceans, rivers, lakes and streams remain healthy for the next generation,” he said on Facebook.

asmart@timescolonist.com

— With a file from the Vancouver Sun

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