Editor’s note: BC Southern Interior Member of Parliament Alex Atamanenko is expressing concern about the closure of the Nelson Department of Fisheries and Oceans office and the loss of staff biologists there. Here’s an open letter he forwarded to us, addressed to the Conservative Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield:
The Hon. Keith Ashfield
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
RE: Closure of the Nelson BC DFO Office
I write to bring to your attention concerns that are being voiced by local residents and elected officials about the closure of the Nelson, BC DFO Office and the re-assignment or loss of staff biologists here. I agree that there is cause for concern at the loss of this expertise in the region, especially following five other specialists with BC Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program also losing their jobs in Nelson this past year.
As you can see by the attached letter from Mr. Shadrack, Chair of the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG), there is concern as to how the closure will affect DFO’s key participation in both the regional Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, as a spin-off from the international Columbia River Treaty, and DFO’s participation in several water stewardship plans and partnerships that are currently underway in the region with First Nations, local governments and various BC agencies. These include those for Kootenay Lake and Slocan Lake, for example, part of the Columbia River Basin. As pointed out in Mr. Shadrack’s letter, the Boundary also has a river connected to the Columbia, and sees ocean fish spawn there. My understanding is that stewardship of waterways that cross provincial or international boundaries remain the ultimate responsibility of the Federal Government.
My Constituency Assistant has been in communication with DFO officials. It is my understanding that, following the passage of Bill C-38, the Habitat section of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is undergoing a reorganization that will result in closure of several offices throughout the country including Nelson. Further, I understand that DFO will now be “streamlining” Habitat and Protection with enforcement and conservation officers, with a focus on aboriginal, larger commercial fisheries, and perhaps some recreational fisheries of a larger business nature. Fisheries for anglers, who bring many tourism dollars to the interior of BC, will not be a DFO priority. BC Interior priorities for DFO conservation staff time will be determined out of the Kamloops or Salmon Arm office (not decided at the time of this writing).
One official spoke of a consultation process with key stakeholders that will be taking place this summer, into the early fall, with the results going to the Minister, and final decisions being made most likely this fall.
I am concerned that, to the best of my knowledge, DFO consultation processes with key stakeholders have not yet been finalized and made public. I am also concerned that the removal of knowledgeable Habitat and Protection staff will mean communities are looking at after-the-fact enforcement and fines rather than beneficial enhancement and protection of important interior fish populations that aren’t tied to the ocean.
It is important that the West Kootenay – Boundary region, and indeed, communities in the southern interior have input into your consultation process, so that they are aware of proposals on how inland fishery habitat and protection will be handled in the future and can respond with information and comments accordingly.
I would urge you to make the consultation process public as soon as possible, including naming the stakeholders you will consult with, and when and where these consultations will take place.
I look forward to hearing from you soon with more information on these consultations that I can share with constituents in the BC’s southern interior.
Alex Atamanenko, MP
BC Southern Interior