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Is There Lack Of Support For Wild Salmon?

Salmonids Sustainability

Bill Taylor, president and CEO of the Atlantic Salmon Federation expresses his views on what he describes as Canada's conflicted priorities between wild Atlantic salmon and farmed salmon.

When it comes to the serious decline in wild Atlantic salmon, it is abundantly clear that money seems to be more important to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) than protecting the "King of Fish." And unfortunately, in the corridors of public policy, fast money from aquaculture wins out over departmental responsibility.

A quick review of the money trail in support of the wild Atlantic salmon paints a bleak picture. Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) funding for conservation programmes for the species has collapsed, relative to inflation, by nearly three-quarters since 1985. In fairness to the department, it has many dedicated scientists, managers and wardens with a strong desire to save the species. DFO also helped secure a special one-time $30-million endowment in 2006 to support local wild Atlantic salmon restoration and research projects, but this has produced only $300,000 a year spread over five provinces and, in itself, is a fraction of what is required to restore and protect the species.

DFO has spent much of the past two decades documenting the decline in the wild Atlantic salmon returns. In the past year, there was a 43.6 per cent decline in the returns of smaller salmon called grilse to their spawning rivers, which will mean a corresponding decline in large spawners in 2010.

Recently, Canada's conflicted priorities between wild Atlantic salmon and farmed salmon were highlighted when it hosted the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) in Quebec City. NASCO was formed in 1982, based on a common recognition that the threats of survival to wild Atlantic salmon required international co-operation, and is thus comprised of all the North Atlantic nations that have wild Atlantic salmon populations spawning or migrating through their jurisdictions. NASCO influences policy through an international treaty and international diplomacy.

Sadly, diplomacy is not working. The influence of money from industrial fish farms has gained the upper hand in public funding and political influence.

Much of Canada's troubles at NASCO reflect how our federal government's relationship with the aquaculture industry overrides its responsibility of wild Atlantic salmon habitat protection. Before NASCO got underway this year, a preliminary review group declared that Canada has failed to adequately address habitat protection and restoration issues. Then, in Quebec City, Canada was deemed by an international panel at NASCO to have failed at demonstrating or reporting on actions toward eliminating farmed salmon escapes and transmission of sea lice from farmed salmon to wild salmon.

The answer for the shift in focus from conservation to commercialisation rests in economics. Commercially-driven enterprises like the aquaculture industry have the benefit of being measurable, and their undoubtedly important contributions to employment and economic development can be quantified. These benefits are important to communities and their elected policy makers.

While the Atlantic Salmon Federation supports an environmentally-sustainable aquaculture industry regulated by science-based standards, we remain concerned with the disproportionate attention that the current unsustainable industry has with the federal government. Having DFO oversee both the aquaculture industry and wild Atlantic salmon programmes seem at best a difficult balancing act, and at worst, a possible conflict of interest.

We know that even while funding allotted to DFO for wild Atlantic salmon conservation programmes has plummeted at an even faster rate than the salmon's population decline, financial support for the aquaculture industry grows steadily. This year, DFO approved a Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy after several years of consultation and admits that the department cannot afford to implement it.

Those of us who treasure wild Atlantic salmon thus face a challenge: we have to put a price tag on the species. What is a wild Atlantic salmon worth? In the event of a cod-like collapse of wild Atlantic salmon, how many people employed by recreational angling and tourism businesses in Atlantic Canada and Quebec will be forced out of work? How much money ordinarily spent by salmon anglers in the local economies around our fabled salmon runs will be removed from those areas? How much angling-related tourism will disappear? What will be the impact on those who rely on the spin-offs from recreational angling?

Armed with the accurate numbers and dollar values, ASF, its membership and its 125 affiliate organisations representing thousands of conservation volunteers will shift the focus to what really matters to the federal government: money, and the influence it represents to decision and policy makers. ASF will initiate a process that counts the socio-economic impacts of what happens to a region without its wild Atlantic salmon returns.

We don't do this by choice - we do it by necessity, to convince the federal government to invest more in conservation and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon rather than relying on quick money from expanded fish farming.

July 2010