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Mar 20 2010

e-mail from Minister Penner & Our Reply

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Reference: 119932
March 4, 2010
Priscilla Judd and Jim Chu

Dear Ms. Judd and Mr. Chu:
Thank you for your email of January 30, 2010, regarding your concerns over the salmon returns on the Fraser River and for illustrating the impact this has had on the First Nations who rely on these fisheries.

In 2009, returns on the Fraser River varied by species and geographic origin. While there were quite strong returns of Pink, Coho and Chinook, there was a wide disparity between the forecasted and actual return of Fraser River Sockeye.

The release of the annual run forecasts for Fraser salmon returns creates significant expectations by First Nations, as well as commercial and recreational anglers. Any significant shortfall in these expectations can have significant social and economic impacts on the British Columbians who depend on these stocks.

In September 2009, I discussed the low return of Fraser River Sockeye with The Honourable Gail Shea, Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. These discussions included a proposal for a comprehensive post-season review in order to better understand the causes for this situation and enable the department to implement appropriate measures in future years. As you may know, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, announced a judicial inquiry on November 5, 2009, and it is my hope that the inquiry will provide some specific recommendations which will improve future management of these fisheries.

There has been much speculation and different explanations offered for the disappointing sockeye returns for last year. While I do not believe that any of the salmon species is at risk of extinction, many individual populations in British Columbia (BC) have disappeared or dwindled. All species of wild salmon face multiple and simultaneous threats, including habitat alteration and loss, hatcheries, harvest, deteriorating water quality, alien species, contaminants and human population growth. Perhaps, however, the most over-arching threat is climate change, which is capable of elevating even a minor threat into a major one.

I believe changes that will challenge some of our core economic, environmental and cultural values are necessary for these species and will require the widespread engagement and understanding of the citizens of BC.

Wild salmon remain a top priority for the BC Government and we are committed to maintaining sustainable populations of wild salmon into the future.

Thank you again for taking the time to express your concerns.
Sincerely,
“Original Signed By”
Barry Penner
Minister

Our Reply
Dear Minister Barry Penner,

Thank you for your reply and sharing your optimism that no salmon species are at risk of extinction. And yes, we were informed of the Cohen Inquiry and plan to participate.

Your statement “The release of the annual run forecasts for Fraser salmon returns creates significant expectations by First Nations, as well as commercial and recreational anglers.” seems to overlook the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the standard of living in native reserves. Firstly having food seems more than a “significant” expectation because it is a right protected by section 25 (1) within UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sadly, Native reserves in Canada have long been acknowledged by UN as having the same dismal Human Development Index as Third World countries. Our concern is for Canadian natives who were unable to fish for food last fall because there was no fish available. Their fishing is not for profit or fun and can’t be compared to commercial and recreational anglers.

While we agree that “returns on the Fraser River varied by species and geographic origin”, we do not agree with unbridled development of fish farms, logging and mining, industrial contaminations, etc.. that further deteriorate the situation. Our concern is that many native reserves in the Fraser River system including the Siska Reserve are experiencing a silent famine due to the sockeye fishery closure in 2009. Apparently, two hundred salmon are needed to sustain a family of four over a winter. http://thetyee.ca/News/2008/05/21/SalmonShortage/ With no salmon to harvest, it’s easy to understand why native people like the Siska, living in isolated parts of BC, face malnutrition to starvation.

The multiple threats of habitat alteration/loss, hatcheries, harvest, water quality, alien species, contaminants, human population growth and climate change are mostly related to global development in which Canada is a big player. But water quality, alien species and contaminants seem to relate directly to fish farms whose sea lice infested waters are culling off wild salmon smolts and alien Atlantic salmon escapees consume our wild salmon. Is the Provincial Fisheries program with it’s aim “…to conserve the natural diversity of fish and fish habitat..” living up to it’s goal when fish farms contribute greatly to poor water quality and contaminants that destroy fish habitat? Very few of us depend on nature for day to day survival, so most of us do not seem to understand the consequence of the closure.

In earlier days, North American buffalo were intentionally decimated to starve the natives and force them to move from their traditional territories so settlers could claim and develop their land. Canada has promised First Nations people access to their traditional food. With that promise comes an obligation to see that natural food and the environment are not exploited to the point where the upstream native people have no more salmon for food.

According to an article at the Tyee (as above), http://thetyee.ca/News/2008/05/21/SalmonShortage/ “Tracy Sampson estimates salmon makes up one-third of the average person’s diet in her community, near Lytton. She says a family of four could probably put away the equivalent of 200 salmon, either dried, frozen or canned… “A lot of people are not getting what they need,” says Sampson. “It’s going to be a pretty dismal year.” That was 2 years ago!

If 30% of the traditional Siska diet is salmon then men, women, children and the elderly have been surviving on 60% of their traditional food for over two years. We must not ignore the possibility that this is a case of forced starvation.

Although I am hopeful that the Inquiry and other discussions will lead to abundant sockeye runs in the future, I would like to know who will prepare and implement an emergency food plan right now for the many impacted native reserves. Considering the vast and multiple nature of your stated causes, the Siska people or any other First Nation will likely face hunger due to further decline of traditional food. Which Ministry deals with that issue?

Right now the man-made disappearance of First Nation’s traditional food is an urgent and ongoing problem. Before this becomes an international scandal, I trust you will direct our letter to the appropriate Government Agency with the jurisdiction to deal with a lost traditional food source and resulting emergency food crisis.

Sincerely

Priscilla Judd
concerned citizen
250 547-9475

Bill Chu
Chair, CFR
604-261-6526

PS
I am writing a blog www.priscillajudd.ca/theXpress and unless I hear otherwise, I will post our letters and your reply when it comes.
Thank you very much

cc: The Honourable Gail Shea, Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Finn Donnelly MP NDP Fisheries Critic

Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

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