Feds reinstate school program

Following weeks of pressure from the NDP, the federal Liberals announced a reversal of their decision to cut a B.C. salmon-education program, and to restore funding for a Search and Rescue dive team.

In recent weeks, government quietly announced the phase-out of the Coast Guard’s only team of emergency rescue divers. On the same day, it announced the end of funding for the Stream to Sea program, which has provided more than a million students with a hands-on learning experience on the role of B.C.’s salmon in the province’s fisheries, ecology, history and First Nations culture.

Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns stood up in the House of Commons Friday, congratulating the many British Columbians who spoke out against the cancelled school program.

“It was very heartening to be part of such a strong groundswell of community opposition to this short-sighted action,” he said in a news release.

The Liberals plan to disband the dive team came as a shock to B.C. mariners who lived through this once before. In 2001, a previous Liberal government cancelled the team as a cost-saving measure. Two days later, a man crashed his vehicle into the Fraser River and the Coast Guard was unable to rescue him from the waters.

“B.C. mariners are relieved they do not have to go through this nightmare again,” said Fin Donnelly, NDP Critic for Fisheries and Oceans. “The Coast Guard Search and Rescue dive team is a unique service that saves lives. Disbanding it was irresponsible and made no sense at all.”

Johns is now encouraging the federal government to work with municipal and First Nations governments, and local stakeholders, to address depleting salmon stocks on the West Coast. He called on the Liberals to immediately support the restoration of Vancouver Island’s Somass River sockeye salmon fishery, given its recent closure.

First Nations and non-indigenous fishers rely on the sockeye run for seasonal employment, Johns noted. Those who depend on the sockeye fishery are facing expired Employment Insurance benefits, and will be without income this season due to the diminished run, he added. Johns hand delivered a letter to Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc, calling the loss “a heavy blow” to Vancouver Islanders who rely on the resource.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is forecasting a return of 170,000 adult fish this year in the Somass. Historically, this fishery produces a salmon run of 750,000 fish.

“This closure illustrates why the government needs to invest in the rehabilitation and restoration of salmon habitats,” Johns said. “We need immediate investments in sustainability programs to restore the Somass River that focus on salmon enhancement, stream restoration, and habitat protection.”