CANADA Fisheries official denies allegations of cover-up research on endangered...

Fisheries official denies allegations of cover-up research on endangered BC Steelhead


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The British Columbian government says the Fraser steelhead is in a state of extreme danger, with an estimated 104 steelheads spawning in the Thompson River and only 19 in the Chilcotin River. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

A senior Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) official has denied allegations that the federal government has covered up scientific data on a unique species of rainbow trout in British Columbia in an attempt to justify continued commercial fishing that threatens the species.

The accusations come in part from British Wildlife Federation chief executive Jesse Zeman, who said the federal government would still not release peer-reviewed scientific studies that conclude that fishing must be restricted to save steelhead in the Thompson and Chilcotin from extinction. .

This species, a member of the salmon family, migrates to the ocean for most of its life, but hatches and spawns in two rivers.

Zoologists and conservation groups in British Columbia have been warning of its dangerous condition for years. annual update The British Columbia Department of Forestry last month warned of the species that numbers are now at historic lows, with preliminary estimates of only 104 Thompson River steelhead ducks and 19 Chilcotin River steelhead ducks spawning this year.

Speaking on CBC Dawn Kamloops On Friday, Andrew Thomson, DFO’s regional director for the Pacific in Vancouver, denied claims that an assessment of the species’ recovery potential had not yet been published and that the scientific advisory report had been edited by DFO officials without the scientists’ knowledge. .

“Undoubtedly, [DFO] very interested in sharing information as part of our scientific process,” Thomson said.

Recovery potential assessment

Zeman argues that the main threat to steelhead comes from by-catch and netting of salmon in the Johnston Sound and Salish Sea off the southern coast of British Columbia, as well as in the Lower Fraser River, and therefore the DFO should ban these methods by declaring them endangered in in accordance with federal law. risk law.

In January 2018, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a group of independent federal government advisers, called for Fraser’s steel head to be listed as endangered.

Red fish peeking out of the net in the ocean.

BC conservation organizations say the main threat to the steelhead of the Inland Fraser comes from by-catch and netting of salmon in Johnston Sound, the Salish Sea and the Lower Fraser River. (Chris Furlong/Getty Images)

This prompted the Canadian Scientific Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) to invite scientists to conduct a peer-reviewed assessment of the species’ recovery potential and publish a report. scientific advisory report based on the same year estimate that the DFO refers to when developing the policy.

Thomson said the estimate can be found on the DFO website. But Zeman said the paper is actually a scientific advisory report and the actual assessment has never been released.

Statement of DFO intervention in the report

Based connection between the DFO, CSAS and the government of British Columbia, accessed through freedom of information requests that were reviewed by CBC News. Zeman says the federal agency withheld the peer-reviewed assessment from the public because it forged a scientific advisory report and developed its own policy. the recommendation is very different from the one indicated in the assessment.

In a December 2018 email, DFO scientist Scott Decker said that the British Columbia government had complained about the federal agency’s unilateral re-wording of the scientific advisory report.

The assessment said that reducing the frequency of salmon harvesting is the only way to save steelhead salmon from extinction, but the final version of the report says that “tolerable harm should not exceed the current level.” to list steelhead without delay under the Species at Risk Act.

Zeman says this has led to federal fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson decision in July 2019 ban recreational fishing in the Thompson and Chilcotin Rivers, but not ban commercial fishing by placing the species under the law.

In an October 2018 email, CSAS Chairman Sean McConnachie revealed that the Assistant Undersecretary of the DFO had edited the wording of the scientific advisory report several times without his knowledge.

Two months later, in an email to the DFO, BC Fisheries Director Jennifer Davis said the findings in the report were not in line with the consensus of the scientists who assessed the recovery potential.

“Real concerns about transparency”

Zeman says the DFO denied his freedom of information request earlier this year to release a recovery potential assessment, meaning he would have to sue the federal government to gain access to the document.

“We know that DFO can do good scientific research, but we also know that the science of DFO is not being shown to the public,” he told CBC. Dawn South.

“There is a real concern about transparency.”

University of British Columbia (UBC) zoology professor Eric Taylor has studied steelhead populations across the province for three decades and led COSEWIC from 2014 to 2018. He agrees that there is very little transparency in how the DFO conducts steelhead research.

“Technically, this is really a scientific scam,” Taylor said. “If this report is not completely clean, honest and objective, it will undermine the credibility of the entire process.”

Taylor says the DFO has conflicting powers to promote commercial fishing and fish conservation, and argues that conservation powers should be transferred to Environment Canada instead.

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