Comment: Chinook-fishing closures will devastate coastal businesses in B.C.

Re: “ ‘Substantial’ chinook restrictions likely needed,” March 15.

Former fisheries minister David Anderson stated in this article that: “Restricting catch is about the only real mechanism we have” to restore chinook salmon stock.

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To put it simply, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce disagrees. Restricting catch is an ineffective solution to a complex problem.

The B.C. Chamber of Commerce believes we must protect the businesses and the economic viability of B.C. coastal communities — as we pursue sustainable solutions to bolster our salmon stocks. Coastal communities agree that climate change and the increasing encroachment of humans into the salmon’s natural habitat must be addressed to protect one of B.C.’s keystone species. But businesses crucial to Vancouver Island’s economy are being put out to sea with these measures, which will bring devastating socio-economic consequences to their small coastal communities.

The proposed closures to B.C.’s recreational fisheries to preserve chinook salmon — an important prey species for orcas — would be economically devastating for both Island and Mainland communities that rely on marine-based tourism businesses. These industries generate more than $1.1 billion in revenue, and employ more than 9,000 British Columbians in stable, well-paying jobs — while harvesting less than 0.5 per cent of Fraser-spawned chinook salmon.

A balanced recovery approach is the best way forward, with the most important factor being a community empowered with the right resources. That’s why governments must reinvest in communities sustained by recreational fishing — specifically through a renewed effort to reopen and fund small chinook-salmon hatcheries and habitat improvement along the Thompson and Fraser rivers.

This approach has been proven to work. Take, for example, the rehabilitation of the Cowichan River chinook fishery. Through a collaboration among local hatcheries, community stakeholders restoring habitat and government, the fishery was rebuilt from an all-time low of 1,000 to more than 25,000 mature, returning chinook salmon. That’s a huge payoff for a small seed investment.

The simplicity of a broad-brush closure is tempting to governments eager to respond to this crisis with action — but we believe the federal government needs to collaborate with B.C.’s coastal communities and use proven models that will restore salmon populations for the long term. This will secure a stable, long-term recovery of our valued chinook salmon stocks (an important food supply for our southern resident killer whales) while at the same time giving our coastal communities the economic security they need to thrive.

This is the win-win for the environment and the economy.

Our member network — and the communities they represent — stands ready to work with the federal government to solve this problem.

Val Litwin is the CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

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