Fisheries Minister may visit riding 

Shea being drawn to Sea to Sky to examine declining fish stocks

Sea to Sky's MP is working to have the federal Fisheries Minister visit his riding to urge government action on declining fisheries.

John Weston, the Member of Parliament for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky, which includes Squamish and Whistler, said in an interview with Pique that he's working on bringing Minister Gail Shea to the riding to address rising concerns about declines in the region's fish stocks.

Two weeks ago the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Squamish to Lillooet Sportfish Advisory Committee wrote in to Pique expressing "extreme dismay" that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans was reporting that more than 9 million sockeye salmon hadn't returned to the Fraser River.

That report came four months after the committee issued a "no fishing for salmon" restriction in the Birkenhead River, a tributary of the Harrison-Lillooet River system, a restriction that was to last until Sept. 15.

That restriction came on the heels of reports of a "dramatic decline" in escapement in 2007, as well as uncertain marine survival and potential impacts from a run-of-river hydro project at Harrison Lake's headwaters.

Weston told Pique that he's working on circulating a survey with the help of the advisory committee that would help him get a sense of what priorities are with regard to aqualife, as well as what the minister should examine should she address it.

But the MP wouldn't elaborate when queried about what the survey would ask, or to whom it would be circulated.

"I'm looking to Dave (Brown, vice chair of the Squamish to Lillooet Sportfish Advisory Committee) and people like Dave to help me with this survey that I'm trying to circulate to get a sense from stakeholders in the community about what the priorities are," Weston said. "(We're) trying to do everything we can to reflect the concerns in the community about the sockeye salmon run and other fisheries issues.

"We recognize this is a priority in our riding. It's a matter not only to you and me, but also to my kids and our grandchildren."

Fisheries have re-emerged as a major issue in British Columbia after reports in mid-August indicated that only 1.7 million of an expected 10.6 to 13 million salmon returned to the Fraser River this summer, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Nearly nine million sockeye spawned in the Fraser in 2005, bringing optimism about future returns. But this year's numbers have dashed those hopes and led to varying interpretations about why they've come back so low.

Alexandra Morton, a biologist who has studied fish on B.C.'s coast for over two decades, points to salmon farms as the problem. In a letter to Minister Shea written Aug. 16, she writes that fish farms played a role in killing sockeye because they're situated on the Fraser River migration route.

The fish, she contends, swam through "fish farm effluent" and after analysis by herself and other scientists, it was discovered that fish swimming out of the Fraser had up to 28 sea lice on them as they passed farms located near Campbell River.

A 2007 report titled "Declining Wild Salmon Populations in Relation to Parasites from Farm Salmon," which was authored in part by Morton, stated that sea lice were having a devastating impact on populations of juvenile pink salmon, and that lice from fish farms could lead to a 99 per cent collapse of pink salmon in four generations.

Brown suggests that sea lice are also impacting fish that migrate through Sea to Sky's streams.

"We think one of the key links to it is the sea lice," he said. "When the salmon migrate out from the Fraser River, they're very small, particularly the Pink and the Chum salmon. They'll spawn now and come out of the river in April.

"As they migrate up they go to the Strait of Georgia. When they get up around the Campbell River area... basically they migrate past a number of salmon farms, and these salmon farms when they go by have sea lice.

"It takes only a couple to kill a salmon."

Officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, meanwhile, have gone on record saying that sea lice aren't to blame for the decline in fish returns out of the Fraser.

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