BC fisheries research lands additional funding

Monte Stewart
August 31, 2022

The federal and B.C. governments have launched the second phase of a research program designed to protect the province’s diminished salmon stocks.

Applications for new B.C. Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) projects will open on September 15 and close on November 22. Last week, federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Joyce Murray and B.C. Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Josie Osborne announced that their governments’ contributions to BCSRIF have doubled.

According to a news release issued by the two governments, the federal government committed an additional $100 million to expand BCSRIF, bringing its contribution to $200 million over seven years. The B.C. government increased its program commitment to $85.7 million over seven years, up from $42.5 million over five years.

BCSRIF commenced in 2019. Murray indicated that about $20 million will be available for upcoming projects.

“Our new investment into phase two will consider projects that address climate change impacts on salmon — priority salmon stocks — as well as the Indigenous participation and traditional knowledge that is so critical,” she said. “This work will help buoy British Columbia’s fish and seafood sector by improving the resiliency of Pacific salmon and so supporting the sustainability of regional fisheries.”

The news conference took place on the shore of the Fraser River, which has seen a large depletion of salmon stocks in Richmond’s Steveston area, which houses Canada’s largest commercial fishing harbour.

“There was a time when wild Pacific salmon spawned in such great abundance that British Columbia's rivers and streams were teeming with life,” said Murray. “We want to bring those times back.”

Ottawa is paying for 70 percent of BCSRIF, while B.C. is covering 30 percent of the tab. The program is described as a key component of the broader Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative.

“The program has consistently been oversubscribed, the need is so great,” said Osborne during the news conference.

While helping to restore salmon stocks, BCSRIF has also rejuvenated oysters, kelp, painted turtles, sandhill cranes, blue herons, and other wildlife, she added. Meanwhile, work on land is helping to reduce the impacts of droughts and flooding.

In 2021, as Research Money reported, B.C. researchers, Indigenous groups, companies and other organizations undertook 12 research and restoration projects designed to protect the province’s salmon population.

In an interview with Research Money, Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nation Wild Alliance, welcomed the new funding.

“I'm grateful that the federal government and especially the provincial government, are stepping up and continuing to invest money in wild salmon in British Columbia,” said Chamberlin. “Obviously, with global warming, wildfires, flooding [in B.C.] there's plenty of work to be done in terms of restoration of habitat for salmon.”

But Chamberlin is taking a wait-and-see approach on what new BCSRIF projects could mean for First Nations.

“I do know that there were a number of First Nations that enjoyed funding from the first round of BCSRIF,” said Chamberlin. “I'm also aware of a number of nations that didn't enjoy funding.  So I'm hoping, of course, that there's a path of reconciliation found here with First Nations. I believe that a strong measure of rehabilitation of habitat and salmon runs is a very clear path of reconciliation in broad strokes across British Columbia.”

Chamberlin reported that 90 percent of the 203 First Nations in B.C. rely upon wild salmon. He called the renewed investment in BCSRIF “a path to unite all that are focused and dependent on wild salmon.”

Chamberlin said it will probably take a generation of investment to restore the depleted stocks.

“But with the outcome of that comes the benefit to the environment, reconciliation, food security, and I don't just mean culture and traditions of First Nations people,” he said. “Many, many British Columbians have their own traditions, fishing with their father, their uncle, their grandfather, and that is why so many of us put [in] the effort that we do.”

In a news release to announce the BCSRIF projects funded in 2021, the federal government cited data from the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission that showed the 2020 global Pacific salmon catch was the lowest since 1982.

“The Fraser is the biggest wild salmon river in the world,” said Musqueam First Nation Chief Wayne Sparrow during last week’s news conference. “Now, the numbers [of salmon] that we're getting here are getting quite scary. And now, hopefully, in my lifetime, we'll see them rebuild — where we have the commercial, the recreational, the First Nations [fishers] out there accessing them and like it was in the past.”

Tsawwassen First Nation fisheries co-ordinator Mike Baird, who was part of a group that received $900,000 in 2021 for a Fraser River fish trap that was launched on the day of this year’s news conference, called for more stock assessments.

“We haven't fished sockeye for three years,” he said during the news conference. “This time in 2010, its [return] was 30 million and now I think we're down to like five million,” Baird said. “I'm anxious to see the work that's being done through BCSRIF.”

That observation is echoed by Zachary Sherker, a University of British Columbia PhD candidate who focuses on salmon. He cited data from the Pacific Salmon Commission, a Canada-U.S. body that manages the two countries' Pacific Salmon Treaty., which showed returns more than 25 per cent lower than expected for late-summer and spring stocks. During the past two weeks, through a pair of revisions, the commission reduced its pre-season estimate of returning sockeye on the Fraser from 9.8 million to 5.5 million.

Sherker noted that Ottawa's doubling of its commitment to Pacific salmon recovery research has excited the research community.

“This announcement may have been precipitated by the seemingly low returns of Fraser stocks in what was expected to be a boom year, especially with the Skeena River populations doing so well,” he concluded.


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