Qualicum Beach Elementary School students release salmon smolts this spring in the school’s Stream to Sea program. The program has been extended for one year but faces potential budget cuts by the federal government. — Photo submitted by Petra Knight

Qualicum Beach school salmon program gets reprieve

Lobbying against DFO cuts earns temporary funding

With the help of some rapid and vigorous lobbying, including assistance from their local MP, Qualicum Beach Elementary School students will get to keep their Sea to Stream salmon-rearing program.

For one year, at least.

The school program, one of many of its kind across British Columbia, was threatened with extinction less than two weeks ago, after a leaked memo indicated Fisheries and Oceans Canada planned to cut its resource restoration components and eliminate funding for education and community support programs, said Gord Johns, Courtenay-Alberni MP.

“The department said it was seeking to focus on its regulatory functions,” Johns said last week. “People are livid. I’ve been taking calls, emails, and correspondence from communities across the riding. They’re very upset.”

The effect of the cuts would be to eliminate federal financial assistance to local salmonid enhancement societies, freshwater hatcheries for cutthroat and trout, and drop the education and community support programs DFO has previously supported, like the QBES Stream to Sea program.

Through the program, students raise salmon fry from eggs in classroom aquariums, and eventually release the young smolts into a nearby stream, said QBES teacher Petra Knight. All the while, the students are learning about the life cycle of salmon and its importance in the coastal ecosystem.

An intense, immediate lobbying effort by educators across the province appears to have restored the program on a one-year, interim basis, said Knight. The effort drew the support of DFO education co-ordinators, including Sarah Casley, North Central Vancouver Island Regional co-ordinator.

“Thanks to our collective voice and the efforts of other supporters of Salmonids in the Classroom, the government has decided to re-institute the program for one more year,” Casley wrote in an email to educators and supporters who signed petitions, wrote letters and made calls to the government. “After that, the future is uncertain. So, we still need to keep pressing the government until they commit to continuing this program indefinitely.”

Johns said lobbying efforts must continue to restore not only the education co-ordinator funding, but money for salmonid enhancement efforts by largely volunteer groups in local communities here and across Vancouver Island and the mainland coast.

“The government is saying this is not core to the mandate of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans,” said Johns. “Conservation is essential and education is essential. How can this not be a priority? How can our children not be a priority?”