More than 140 people from Kamloops and surrounding communities were at a meeting at Sandman Centre on Tuesday night to have their say on how the province should move forward in restoring and sustaining B.C.’s wild salmon population.
In June 2018, the government-appointed Wild Salmon Advisory Council was created to develop a strategy for restoring and sustaining the fish populations.
That group put forward an options paper and set out to collect public input in a series of meetings, pledging to gather input and make recommendations to government on how to approach the complex issues salmon are facing.
Kamloops was the seventh public input session and the only Interior city the council visited.
On Tuesday night, two of the council’s 14 members greeted the region’s anglers, conservationists, scientists and Indigenous to gather input.
About 20 people spoke to the panel, which also included a representative from the Wild Salmon Secretariat in the Office of the Premier.
First up was Don Trethewey, a recreational angler and regional director for the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers who is also a member of the Kamloops and District Fish and Game Association and the Kamloops Fly Fishers.
“I cannot help but have concerns that the inland Fraser-Thompson and steelhead issues are not adequately represented by people on your group,” he said, noting the group is lacking in representation from the region, a common complaint among speakers.
“I also note that composition of the entire council is heavily weighted to coastal representation — that notwithstanding the fact that millions of sockeye migrate to the Adams Shuswap region not 200 metres from where we sit right now,” he said.
Brian Englund, who said he has lived on the Horsefly River for 38 years, has serious concerns about what is happening in his community and its watershed, which was recently designated as a fisheries-sensitive watershed. Fish harvesters there were given two years to comply with the new restrictions.
“Well, what do you think happens in that situation? At this point it’s almost rape and pillage there,” he said.
Englund works as a fishing guide and did sockeye enumeration on the river. He said the entire watershed is “falling apart.”
“I think it’s the number one issue with salmon other than what’s going on in the ocean. This has gone way too far. Something has to be done,” he told the panel.
Gord Bacon, who is also unhappy with the composition of the panel, said many at the meeting were also concerned about steelhead trout — which, by the province’s definition, would also be included in its management efforts.
“I’ve been concerned about it for many years. About 98 per cent of them have disappeared in the last 30 years. That’s unacceptable because we’ve been researching them for 30 years and we’ve gone nowhere,” he said.
Concerned that the initial options report did not include a prioritized list of recommendations — which the group plans on doing following its public consultations — Bacon said ’it’s nothing to do with not doing the work, it’s that there’s too much work to do.”
Sandy McDonald, chairman of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board and a member of local clubs, said he was surprised to learn the province — and not the federal government — leading these efforts.
“We’re shocked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not leading this thing. They’re the people that really manage salmon. Certainly the province manages habitat, but Fisheries and Oceans should have been doing this three years ago — 10 years ago,” he said.
Matt Jennings, executive director of the B.C. Fishing Resorts and Outfitters Association, said that while recreational anglers are users of the resource, they are also a passionate group of stewards. He called for drastic measures from the government to show it is committed.
“The one thing I’m looking for from this government is an immediate stoppage of logging in critical salmon habitat,” he said. “If they can show us that they’ll actually do that, I think we’ll have a chance of moving forward.”
Travis Marr, a Tk’emlups member who works for the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation and fishes for both sustenance and sport, said he would like to see an end to “archaic discharge practices.”
“Here in Kamloops we have a sewer plant, Domtar and the city dump all within a small area, all downstream of the Thompson River, where there are juvenile-rearing salmon,” Marr said. “These archaic practices need to change. The City of Kamloops needs to smarten up and make those changes.”
Frank Dwyer of the Kamloops Naturalist Club called himself “somewhat of a citizen scientist,” a lover of nature and a local angler. He recalled how times have changed, calling what is happening on the Thompson River an “ecological catastrophe.”
“I spent 30 years in the summers and right through till ice was hanging out of my nostrils wading and walking the Thompson. When I splashed through shallows 30 years ago, I scattered myriad thousands of fry. I don’t see that anymore. I saw rocks festooned with stonefly husks. I barely see any,” he said.
Dwyer also talked about the decline of steelhead in the Deadman River east of Kamloops. He said records once showed more than 1,000 fish in the stream, but he has since learned of drastically reduced numbers after speaking with the nearby Skeetchestn Indian Band.
“I asked how many steelhead were expected this spring. He said ‘They will be in the 10s.’
“I lay the blame for it all at the feet of the DFO. What they’ve done on the East Coast, they’ve done on the West Coast,” Dwyer said.
Peter Mutrie, an avid sport fisherman and self-described “salmon enhancement aficionado” for some 40 years, said is he is heartened by process.
“I have to encourage you to actually make something happen out of this process so that we don’t have another dust collector on the shelf,” he said.
Mutrie encouraged the council to look at previous reports’ recommendations and “try not to be too amazed by how many of them are relevant today like they were 40 or 50 years ago.”
He said that what the council is up against is “no small thing here — actually quite huge,” adding said that the fish have suffered death by a thousand cuts.
“The solution is going to be a thousand sutures — over 20, 30, 40 years,” Mutrie said.