Minister of Finance Bill Morneau announced a $105-million BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund and a separate $30-million Quebec Fisheries Fund as part of the federal government’s Nov. 21 economic update. File photo

Feds say $105-million fish fund will support wild salmon, innovation in B.C. fisheries

Funding comes amid steep declines in wild salmon stocks

The Liberal government is rolling out a multi-million dollar fund to restore wild salmon habitat and support fisheries in B.C. amid steep declines in wild stocks.

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau announced the $105-million funding initiative and a separate $30-million Quebec Fisheries Fund as part of the federal government’s Nov. 21 economic update.

During his speech in the House of Commons, Morneau said the money will “help sustain Canada’s wild fish stocks and the communities that rely on them.”

New Democrat MP Rachel Blaney said she’s hopeful the program will help restore salmon habitat, an issue that many constituents have raised with her office.

“I hope we actually see the money flowing into the community in a meaningful way,” Blaney said from Ottawa, where she represents the North Island-Powell River riding.

The new fund for B.C. includes an investment of $100 million over the course of six years, along with a one-time contribution of $5 million for the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund, according to a statement from the federal government. The province is also expected to announce contributions in the coming weeks.

The program is modelled on a $400-million Atlantic Fisheries Fund that was unveiled last year for the fish and seafood sector in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

READ MORE: B.C. whale-watching group uses surcharge to boost salmon, science for killer whales

That fund has bankrolled projects including the testing of ropeless gear by a seafood company to protect whales from getting entangled, said Jocelyn Lubczuk, press secretary for federal fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

Various stakeholders – including private companies, Indigenous groups, NGOs and academics – will be able to apply to receive funding for specific projects, Lubczuk said.

“There will be parts of this $100 million that go towards salmon habitat, restoration and protection,” Lubszuk said. “Part of that will also go towards industry, the folks who are creating jobs in this sector, to ensure that they have the most sustainable organizations and are positioned well for the future.”

READ MORE: Tofino, Ucluelet, Swiftsure facing likely fishing closures in 2019

Asked whether funds would be available to aquaculture companies, she said the money is meant to benefit the fish and seafood sector writ large.

“We’re not at a stage where we’re going to exclude one sector,” Lubszuk said. “It’s an inclusive pocket of funding.”

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) and the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) – two organizations representing fish farmers – both issued statements in support of the new funding.

“B.C.’s salmon farmers have long supported efforts to study and enhance the health of both wild and farm-raised fish,” said Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the BCSFA.

The money comes at a time when wild stocks are experiencing a major decline, said Brian Riddell, president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF).

A $5-million capital boost for the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund will result in roughly $250,000 in new money generated annually in interest, which the PSF will then distribute to various community groups dedicated to wild salmon conservation, Riddell said.

He said there’s an “unlimited amount of work to do for salmon conservation and for protecting and restoring their habitat.”

READ MORE: Half of Canada’s chinook salmon populations in decline

Salmon stocks are hard to calculate with certainty due to the multitude of streams and species in B.C., but the overall abundance of wild salmon has declined since the 1950s, according to a September report by the BC Wild Salmon Advisory Council.

That decline ranges from 20 to 45 per cent on the north and central coast, while southern B.C. has seen sockeye decline by 43 per cent and chum decline by 14 per cent, while pink salmon have increased by about 24 per cent in southern B.C., according to PSF data included in the report.

Those numbers represent the long-term average from 1954-2016 compared with data from the past decade.

Southern chinook have also experienced a “widespread decrease in productivity, but these rates are highly variable between years and rivers,” the report states.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada said on Monday that of 16 chinook populations assessed in southern B.C., eight are endangered, four are threatened and one is of special concern.

Only one chinook population studied – located in the Thompson River – was found to be stable. Not enough data was available to assess the other two populations. There are 28 chinook populations in southern B.C.

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