Citing the lowest return of sockeye last year in recorded history, Gord Johns has vowed to do everything in his power to ensure Pacific wild salmon don’t go the way of Atlantic cod.
Now that Parliament has resumed, the Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP has pledged to rise at every moment to demand action from the federal Liberals. He wants the Trudeau government to support the thousands of volunteers and organizations that initiate enhancement and restoration programs to protect wild stocks “that are on the brink of collapse” on the west coast.
Johns, the NDP Critic for Fisheries and Oceans, says government needs to take a multi-faceted approach — and relief to the tune of $500 million over the next five years just for restoration — to rehabilitate streams damaged from industrial activity, and from plastic and marine pollution.
And fishers need to be compensated for loss of income.
“We need to overhaul the whole quota system so the people out there fishing are benefitting, instead of the ‘slipper skippers’; that’s the armchair fishers that own the concentration of quota,” Johns said from Ottawa. “This is a public fishery. We don’t even know who owns a lot of the quota. It should be in the hands of the people on the water trying to make a living.
“It’s like we live in two countries,” Johns added. “On the east coast it’s fish-it-or-lose-it. On the west coast it’s a different model, one that hasn’t worked for everybody. We want to make sure there’s some balance.”
Profits of commercial fishers have dropped significantly in the last two decades.
“We need to keep money in coastal communities so they can thrive and prosper,” Johns said. “We can lower our total allowable catch if necessary, and ensure people still have a way of life when we have difficult times like this when we have stocks at risk.”
In 2019, he said 3,583,000 pounds of salmon were caught. In 2000, the catch was more than 42 million pounds. In 1951, it was 200 million pounds.
“We’re catching less than eight per cent of the harvest that we caught two decades ago,” said Johns, who implores government to listen to coastal communities to bring fish back to abundancy.
“No demographic is more impacted by the decline of salmon than Indigenous communities. It’s a primary source of their diet. For coastal communities, this is a really important food security item that also helps alleviate poverty. Many people right now, their cupboards are empty, for the first time. It’s having a huge impact, especially on the most rural communities.”