Recently announced cuts to hatchery programs like the steelhead production in Chilliwack, and Stream to Sea classroom programs, are getting heavily criticized. (Chilliwack Progress file photo)

Cuts to salmon enhancement programs in Chilliwack criticized

Fisheries minister is acknowledging concerns coming from communities in the wake of recent cuts

Changes announced to the Salmonid Enhancement Program by Fisheries and Oceans Canada last week aren’t going over too well in Chilliwack and beyond.

Cuts are expected for the Salmonids in the Classroom program under Stream to Sea, along with local steelhead and cutthroat hatchery programs, but DFO officials are stating for the record that they remain “committed to the conservation of wild Pacific salmon.”

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc vowed to “maintain and enhance” salmon conservation efforts in interviews last week.

“We remain committed to the conservation of wild Pacific salmon and the broader Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP), which will receive $27 million in federal funding this year,” said DFO spokesperson Athina Vazeos, in an emailed statement to The Progress.

Rod Clapton, president of the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers, said his group is adding its voice to the “growing” chorus of opposition from passionate advocates to announced cuts to DFO programs in the Pacific Region.

“We have grave concerns regarding the elimination of the DFO production of steelhead and cutthroat,” said Clapton, who is also the spokesperson of the Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance.

These “changes” are coming at time when many B.C. stocks of steelhead are at the point of “extreme” conservation concern, Clapton said.

“It will take the combined efforts of both governments, with the support of stakeholders to save these fish,” he wrote in a letter to Minister Leblanc.

Another area of concern is what is in store for the highly respected Salmonids in the Classroom program.

Stream to Sea programming is geared to teach students “to understand, respect and protect freshwater, estuarine and marine ecosystems, and to recognize how all humans are linked to these complex environments.”

“This program has for many years assisted in developing our youth as the future stewards of the resource,” said Clapton.

Salmonids in the Classroom is presented to more than 35,000 children every year.

“At a cost of $600,000 most would agree this is a wise expenditure of our licence fees and tax dollars,” he added. DFO reps are acknowledging they have heard the criticism.

“We have heard the concerns of community members about some recent changes to the Salmonid Enhancement Program. Our government takes those concerns seriously,” said Vazeos.

“Preserving and restoring salmon habitat is fundamental” to ensuring there is salmon “for generations to come.”

“We will work with communities to identify opportunities for collaboration to ensure that this important work is not lost and is continued and strengthened for the years ahead,” the DFO rep said. “The educational and technical support contracts for this year will go ahead as planned.”

DFO announced the creation of a new $75 million Coastal Restoration plan that will roll out over the next five years, which will include a “Resource Restoration Unit.”