BC Pacific Salmon Forum

BC Pacific Salmon Forum

April 07, 2006 16:27 ET

BC Pacific Salmon Forum Calls for Action on Cheakamus River

NANAIMO, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(CCNMatthews - April 7, 2006) - The BC Pacific Salmon Forum has called on Provincial Environment Minister Barry Penner to authorize an immediate conservation fish culture hatchery initiative to help repopulate the Cheakamus River with steelhead.

The steelhead present in the river were essentially obliterated by the derailing of a CN train and the dumping of caustic soda into the river in August, 2005.

Jeremy Maynard, a member of the Forum's Board and Chairman of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board to DFO, says it has been pretty well determined that the accident "largely destroyed most if not all of three generations of the river's steelhead stock."

"Enhancing the habitat of the Cheakamus by fertilizing the river and putting large woody debris into the water will help repopulate the river very slowly, but unless the BC Ministry of Environment captures broodstock to facilitate a well considered hatchery program, the opportunity will be missed to repopulate this river in anything less than decades. If the Ministry doesn't move on this within days, before the snowpack starts to melt, it will be too late."

Mr. Maynard said that the Ministry of Environment apparently has delayed authorizing this initiative because some ministry officials prefer "natural recovery" strategies for the River and are concerned about potential impacts to the genetic fitness of resulting enhanced offspring.

"The Ministry's position is unsupported by a team of scientists at UBC, by studies of enhancing the Kitimat River steelhead stock, and by the Ministry's own document, Steelhead Stream Classification - Policy and Procedure, which supports 'conservation fish culture' for designated 'wild' streams provided it follows 'a carefully designed breeding plan and release strategy to mimic what would happen in the wild.'"

"That is precisely what we are calling for," Maynard said, adding that an announced "review" of the Ministry's decision "amounts to running out the clock" to the point where a fish culture program cannot be launched because no broodstock will be available.

"Because of the variable and multi-year lifespan of these fish, recovery of this population will depend on the return of adult steelhead this spring and next. Without intervention to put more juvenile steelhead into the river, the return of steelhead to the Cheakamus in future years is expected to be a few dozen fish. In other words, a 'hands-off' restoration approach will take decades to restore the river...if ever."

The Cheakamus is a major steelhead river on the south coast and the repopulation of the river has been publicly supported by local and provincial sport fishermen, the Squamish First Nation, local government and various NGOs.

"The Cheakamus is an important steelhead river to lower mainland anglers. And at a time when many steelhead rivers in the south are in decline, every river matters."

Contact Information