Cullen demands better leadership over salmon crisis

MP urges ground-level cooperation amidst grim estimates of sockeye, chinook returns

Skeena Bulkley-Valley MP Nathan Cullen has called for “real leadership” from the federal fisheries minister in what he calls a high-stakes season for sockeye and chinook returns.

In a press release March 15 Cullen said he waited three days for a phone call promised from Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc, and wanted assurance DFO will engage with regional and industry leaders regarding the 2018 salmon harvest in a frank and direct manner.

“It is frustrating and unacceptable for a federal ministry to stonewall a Member of Parliament on issues of such economic and cultural importance to the riding,” he said.

“I’ve got all user groups knocking on my office doors with their concerns and local DFO managers are being told by Ottawa they cannot speak with me.”

Shortly after the release a special advisor to the minister reached out to Cullen’s office to arrange a meeting next week with the MP and senior salmon managers from Prince Rupert.

“We are always happy to engage with Members of Parliament and their offices, including Mr. Cullen, on any matters relating to DFO,” said Minister LeBlanc’s press secretary, Vincent Hugh. “Regional DFO officials will of course participate.

“Specific fishery measures for particular stocks of concern will be developed with input from First Nations and stakeholders as part of the Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plan consultation process,” Hugh said.

READ MORE: Fishing bans on sockeye, chinook a possibility

Last week DFO issued a warning to residents of the North Coast and Skeena watershed that sweeping bans on sockeye and chinook were a high probability. But official counts and a planning decision on all recreational, sport, First Nations and commercial fisheries will not be ready until early May. DFO said it was one of the most challenging seasons the region has ever faced, with current sockeye projections slightly above 500,000, about 300,000 short of requirements for recreational river fishing. The chinook season was described as possibly the worst on record.

Going forward, Cullen said balancing the 2018 harvest to meet First Nations, recreational and commercial needs, while also protecting the health of threatened stocks, “will be a delicate dance.”

“It is absolutely imperative that all sectors work together to equitably share our precious salmon resource. The stakes, tension and conflict are very high. We must plan for peace, put fish first, and support our salmon-based economies and cultures in every way possible.”

Cullen said he’s spent most of the two-week parliamentary spring break talking with stakeholder groups about the harvest plan. He’s counting on DFO to release harvest numbers as soon as possible to avoid a repeat of 2017’s last-minute closure that deeply impacted fishing-related businesses.

“Harvest decisions have an incredible economic impact on the salmon-based economies of many Northwest communities and the sooner tourism operators and patrons know what the season will look like, the better,” he said.

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