Con­sid­er­able chal­lenges

His­tor­i­cally im­por­tant wild At­lantic salmon face many threats

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY STEPHEN CHASE Stephen Chase is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the At­lantic Salmon Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion

Take a minute to con­sider what wild At­lantic salmon means to Prince Ed­ward Is­land. It’s part of our iden­tity, in­ter­min­gled with our past, present and fu­ture. From long be­fore Euro­pean set­tlers landed here, salmon was a main­stay of abo­rig­i­nal life and is still a cen­ter­piece of na­tive liveli­hood and cer­e­mony.

How many gen­er­a­tions of Is­lan­ders have shared the bond of stand­ing in waders cast­ing into a pool, con­tent in that tran­quil mo­ment, yet hop­ing it will be shat­tered in the split sec­ond of a strike?

When you con­sider salmon and its place in our history, lifestyle, econ­omy, and cul­ture, es­pe­cially with re­spect to First Na­tions, its value is im­mea­sur­able.

But con­sid­er­able pres­sures are be­ing placed on our salmon, from en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors in our oceans and rivers to over­fish­ing by the in­ter­na­tional com­mer­cial fish­ery. And while we know that there are good years and bad years for our salmon runs, the cur­rent trend is trou­ble­some.

Since the 1970s, re­turns of adult salmon to Eastern Cana­dian rivers have dropped from 1.8 mil­lion per year to less than half that, an av­er­age of 0.7 mil­lion per year. In 2014, 70 per cent of the 60 rivers mon­i­tored by the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) fell short of their con­ser­va­tion lim­its for salmon.

Given salmon’s im­por­tance, and its pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion, the work of the At­lantic Salmon Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion (ASCF) is vi­tal.

The Foun­da­tion was formed nearly 10 years ago, when the Gov­ern­ment of Canada pro­vided a $30 mil­lion en­dow­ment to fund wild At­lantic salmon con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

Through its ad­vi­sory pan­els of sci­en­tists, bi­ol­o­gists and con­ser­va­tion ex­perts, ASCF uses the in­ter­est earned on that en­dow­ment, and do­na­tions from spon­sors such as the P.E.I. Liquor Con­trol Com­mis­sion, as fund­ing for projects to pro­tect wild At­lantic salmon and its habi­tat in the At­lantic prov­inces and Que­bec.

Since 2008, we’ve awarded over $3.5 mil­lion for more than 200 projects. This year alone we dis­trib­uted close to $1.1 mil­lion.

The re­sults across the re­gion are con­sid­er­able: nearly 900,000 square me­ters of habi­tat re­stored and al­most 43 mil­lion square me­ters of new habi­tat cre­ated. That’s a lot of wa­ter­ways cleaned up, log jams and aban­doned dams re­moved, trees planted, cul­verts re­paired, river sed­i­men­ta­tion dealt with, and ob­struc­tions breached to al­low headwater ac­cess to spawn­ing fish. We also fund re­stock­ing pro­grams and ini­tia­tives that teach school chil­dren about con­ser­va­tion, sup­port lead­ing edge salmon con­ser­va­tion re­search, of­fer we­bi­nars cov­er­ing con­ser­va­tion and habi­tat restora­tion, and re­cently launched our new web-based re­source, “The Salmon Hub.”

Here in P.E.I., projects on the Morell and Trout rivers and in our wa­ter­sheds are see­ing pos­i­tive re­sults as habi­tat is re­stored and salmon are re­turn­ing to their spawn­ing grounds.

Much of this work is done through part­ner­ships with com­mu­nity-based con­ser­va­tion groups, First Na­tions, and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. In P.E.I., some 225 jobs have been cre­ated, mainly in ru­ral ar­eas.

Be­yond the pay­ing jobs, over 700 vol­un­teers have do­nated their time and ef­fort.

While we are proud of the dif­fer­ence the Foun­da­tion is mak­ing, we still turn down many ex­cel­lent grant ap­pli­ca­tions, sim­ply be­cause funds are lim­ited.

But we are op­ti­mistic. Ear­lier this year fed­eral Fish­eries Min­is­ter Gail Shea formed an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee on At­lantic salmon. At meet­ings across the re­gion, pro­pos­als were pre­sented on how to ad­vance con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, which is now a gov­ern­ment pri­or­ity.

We were pleased to have ap­peared be­fore that com­mit­tee to ex­press some con­cerns, but mainly to sug­gest so­lu­tions to salmon con­ser­va­tion is­sues. In par­tic­u­lar, we of­fered our Foun­da­tion as an ex­cel­lent and ac­count­able de­liv­ery method for any new fed­eral fund­ing, which is so nec­es­sary to sav­ing Canada’s iconic wild At­lantic salmon. ASCF al­ready has this man­date and the in­fra­struc­ture in place to hit the ground run­ning.

The chal­lenges are con­sid­er­able and the stakes are high. How can you help? If you’re an an­gler, hon­our Min­is­ter Shea’s call for “catch and re­lease” of salmon across the re­gion. If your recre­ation is in our woods and wa­ter­ways, keep habi­tat con­ser­va­tion in mind and avoid dam­ag­ing streams, brooks and river­banks. If your busi­ness, farm or mill borders on wa­ter­ways, mit­i­gate harm­ful run-off and plan ex­pan­sion care­fully.

With your dili­gence, an en­hanced ef­fort by DFO, and ASCF’s sup­port, the king of the fight­ing fish will have more than a fight­ing chance.

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