Premier John Horgan is urging British Columbians to put aside their “petty differences” and work to develop a provincial strategy for protecting failing wild salmon stocks.
Speaking at a public meeting in Colwood on Thursday, Horgan said his government established the Wild Salmon Advisory Council to gather a “pan-British Columbia perspective” on the issue.
“We can’t fight amongst ourselves,” he said. “We have to unify and have a common message to the federal government.”
He said the one thing everybody already has in common is a passion for salmon.
“Commercial fishers, Indigenous people, recreational fishers, environmental organizations, community leaders — right across the waterfront, people are passionate about salmon and they want to work together,” he said.
But he acknowledged that it will be difficult to find an agreement on an issue that has been divisive in the past.
“Often, we have large meetings like this where there is anger, and what I wanted to see tonight was a sense of hope,” he said.
Horgan made the comments to an overflow crowd at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre’s Kinsmen Fieldhouse in Colwood as the advisory council wrapped a series of public meetings on the issue.
A number of speakers thanked Horgan for getting involved in the issue rather than leaving everything to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“If [DFO] devolved more power to the regions, we’d be much better off,” Tom Davis, who was involved in the sports fishing industry for years, told Horgan. “In the absence of that, we’ve got you guys.
“So I’m glad to see that you’re back in the game, but I’d like to see you in it for the long haul with much more authority to make decisions.”
Not everyone, however, is enamoured of the B.C. government’s approach to the issue.
Aaron Hill, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said in an interview that the advisory council appears skewed in favour of the fishing industry and lacks sufficient representation from scientists and conservation groups.
He also expressed concern that all but one of the council’s public meetings were held on the coast, despite the fact much of the Interior is home to wild salmon.
“You’ll hear different things if you go to Interior communities,” Hill said. “People there are a lot more concerned about the over-fishing that occurs on the coast as the salmon make their way back up the rivers.”
In Colwood, speakers largely focused on urging investment in fish hatcheries, habitat restoration and pollution prevention. A few elicited a mixed reaction by raising the prospect of culling seals and sea lions that feed on salmon.
Mike Hicks, an advisory council member and the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director, said the information gathered at the public meetings and elsewhere will be used to inform the next steps.
“From here, it’s going to go to a strategy, and from the strategy it’s going to go to the cabinet, and from the cabinet, hopefully, it’s going to go to a budget, and from there it’s going to go to implementation,” he said.
“We have the opportunity of a lifetime right now and I don’t think we’ll get it again, not in my lifetime.”