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e-3676 (Fisheries)

Initiated by Gregory Gordon from Kamloops, British Columbia

Original language of petition: English

Petition to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

  • British Columbia's Interior Fraser River steelhead, a group of several stocks including the internationally renowned Thompson River steelhead, are classified by the Province of British Columbia as an extreme conservation concern;
  • This year, fewer than 75 Thompson River steelhead are expected to return from a run that numbered in the thousands as recently as the first decade of this century;
  • Fewer than 35 steelhead are expected to return to the Chilcotin River;
  • The remaining stocks in the Interior Fraser steelhead group, collectively known as the West Fraser stock (Nahatlach, Bridge, Seton and Stein rivers,) have disappeared from both provincial and federal fisheries management agencies agendas and are not monitored;
  • Steelhead are intercepted in Canadian gill net and seine fisheries, including Aboriginal Food, Social and Ceremonial fisheries, which seek other co-migrating salmon and are authorized by Fisheries and Oceans Canada without due regard for Interior Fraser steelhead; and
  • In 2018, Fisheries and Oceans Canada unilaterally altered the scientific advice provided by Canada's Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) to avoid listing Interior Fraser steelhead under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). A second review by COSEWIC has resulted in a second classification of Interior Fraser steelhead as endangered and a second recommendation for listing under SARA. That recommendation has the support of a broad array of provincial, federal and international conservation organizations.
We, the undersigned, citizens of Canada, call upon the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to recommend to Cabinet that Interior Fraser Steelhead are finally given the protection deserved under SARA.

Response by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): Mike Kelloway

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) works with the Province of British Columbia (BC) on Interior Fraser River (IFR), Thompson River and Chilcotin River steelhead management through a Memorandum of Understanding concerning management plans and objectives for this important species. BC is responsible for the management of freshwater fish stocks in the province, including steelhead population assessment and monitoring.

In February 2018, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) provided the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change (Minister of ECC) with an emergency assessment of the Thompson River and Chilcotin River steelhead populations. The assessment found both populations to be endangered and the Minister of ECC was of the opinion the populations were facing imminent threat to their survival. As per s. 29 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), this triggered the requirement for the Minister of ECC to recommend an emergency listing to the Governor in Council (GiC) under SARA.

In July 2019, the Government of Canada decided not to list these populations under SARA, instead opting to use mechanisms available under the Fisheries Act and provincial legislation for management, conservation, and recovery. DFO and BC announced a joint Steelhead Action Plan for Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead. The action plan was informed by threats identified in the February 2018 COSEWIC emergency status assessment and the subsequent October 2018 Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) Recovery Potential Assessment. It outlines a range of actions that aim to reduce mortality and increase survival of returning Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead, improve freshwater conditions through habitat protection and restoration, and increase science and monitoring activities. The province’s 2019-21 BC Action Plan and Activities Report provides details and an update on the activities taken to reverse the decline of IFR steelhead, including the Thompson and Chilcotin populations.

In November 2020, COSEWIC conducted a full assessment of the Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead populations, confirming their statuses as endangered. COSEWIC submitted these assessments to the Minister of ECC in October 2021. Since these species are not listed under SARA, this assessment initiates a new listing consideration process, which is now ongoing. In addition to updating science advice and undertaking required socio-economic analysis as per Cabinet Directive on Regulation, DFO will conduct consultations with Indigenous groups and engage the public on these listing proposals. The Minister of DFO will share results of these considerations with the Minister of ECC, who will make a listing recommendation to the GiC. It is the GiC that makes the final listing decision. Before the Minister of ECC makes a listing recommendation to the GiC, he must also consult with Wildlife Management Boards, as per s. 27(2)(c) of SARA, and take COSEWIC’s assessments into account.

Recovering Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead will require a comprehensive approach with collaboration and involvement from many communities and levels of government. Outside of the Steelhead Action Plan, additional fisheries management measures also form part of the suite of actions that work to address conservation concerns for IFR steelhead. Over the past three years, DFO has taken increasingly stronger measures to reduce the potential impacts of salmon fisheries on co-migrating steelhead stocks of concern, including significant salmon fishery closures. Specific details on conservation measures are described in the annual Southern British Columbia Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP). In addition, on June 29, 2021, DFO announced significant commercial salmon closures for the 2021 season that aimed to provide strong protection for stocks of conservation concern, including steelhead, across the Pacific region. For 2022 and beyond, DFO is continuing to take a more precautionary approach to managing commercial salmon fisheries and recently consulted on longer-term commercial fishery closures to further protect and support rebuilding of depressed salmon populations. Details on these closures, as well as additional fishery mitigation measures, can be found on the commercial Pacific salmon closures webpage and in the draft 2022-2023 Southern British Columbia Salmon IFMP.

DFO recognizes that beyond fisheries, other threats to steelhead survival, such as land use, water use, and other factors that may affect fish habitat and water quality must also be addressed. The BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) is a joint federal-provincial program that provides funding for a wide variety of projects that contribute to the conservation and restoration of wild Pacific salmon and other priority stocks. For example, BCSRIF is funding the BC Conservation Foundation to restore a number of priority sites in the Thompson River watershed that will benefit salmon and steelhead. This restoration includes adaptive habitat restoration designs that accommodate the effects of changing ecosystem dynamics in the face of climate change.

Open for signature
November 26, 2021, at 10:43 a.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
March 26, 2022, at 10:43 a.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
Lisa Marie Barron (Nanaimo—Ladysmith)
May 13, 2022 (Petition No. 441-00463)
Government response tabled
August 17, 2022
Photo - Lisa Marie Barron
New Democratic Party Caucus
British Columbia