The process surrounding the emergency review of the status of Interior Fraser Steelhead (IFS), most notably the Thompson stock, is not exactly well understood by anyone not intimately involved in the process. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the federal government agency ultimately in control of the fate of those fish, would seem to have recognized that point and prepared what I’d call an executive summary. Its a good piece to inform a broader audience eager to familiarize itself with the processes ahead. Here’s a cut and paste:
Interior Steelhead Trout – (Chilcotin and Thompson River populations)
Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) provides legal protection for wildlife species at risk to conserve biological diversity. It also acknowledges that all Canadians have a role to play in the conservation of wildlife species.
Steelhead Trout (sometimes referred to as “Steelhead Salmon”) is the anadromous form (i.e. fish which migrate from marine to freshwater environments to spawn) form of Rainbow Trout (Onchorhynchus mykiss), which is a salmonid found in freshwater tributaries to the Pacific Ocean.
Steelhead populations face several diverse threats, including poor marine survival, habitat degradation, shifts in life history (anadromous versus non- anadromous forms), climate change and impacts from fishing (incidental mortality in the commercial salmon fishery and recreational freshwater catch and release steelhead fishery, and directed food, social and ceremonial fishing by Indigenous groups).
The Thompson and Chilcotin Steelhead populations in B.C.’s Fraser River watershed have been declining since 2005. With total spring 2018 spawning forecast estimates of 165 Thompson and 50 Chilcotin, the Province of British Columbia considers the populations to be in a “Critical Conservation Zone.”
Emergency Assessment – COSEWIC
In December 2017, the Chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) informed the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (MECCC) that COSEWIC would conduct a threat assessment of Interior Steelhead Trout (Chilcotin and Thompson River populations) with a view to the species being emergency-listed as Endangered. The emergency assessment was premised on an application of supporting biological information indicating that there is an imminent threat to the survival of the species, and what appears to be a dramatic decline in the numbers of mature fish returning to spawn.
COSEWIC’s assessment results are expected to be released in February 2018.
Figure 1: Fraser River Steelhead Trout stock groups
Source: MELP and DFO. 1998. Review of Fraser River steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).
Emergency Listing Process under SARA
COSEWIC’s emergency assessment of Interior Steelhead Trout triggers the Government of Canada to consider whether to list the species on an emergency basis.
Prescriptive recommendation to Governor in Council
Under SARA (s. 29 – Emergency listing), the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (MECC) must make a recommendation to the Governor in Council (Cabinet) that the species be added to the List of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (Schedule 1 of SARA) as Endangered if s/he is of the opinion that there is an imminent threat to the survival of a wildlife species based on a COSEWIC emergency assessment and/or based on other information. No additional factors may be considered by the MECC in making their recommendation to the Governor in Council.
Other listing considerations
Although the MECC is required to make a recommendation to list Interior Steelhead Trout as Endangered if an imminent threat to the species is determined, the Governor in Council may consider other factors (e.g., socio-economic impacts, anticipated stakeholder positions) before issuing a listing decision via notice published in Canada Gazette II. However, all input from responsible Ministers must be prepared and provided in advance of the Governor in Council’s review of the listing decision. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is evaluating opportunities for Indigenous and public consultations on the emergency listing of Interior Steelhead Trout.
If listed, COSEWIC is required to prepare a status report on the species within one year, confirming or reclassifying the at-risk status of the species. DFO will undertake a regular listing process to confirm or reconsider the emergency listing, including thorough consultations with Indigenous groups and stakeholders.
Implications of Emergency Listing Decision
A decision by the Governor in Council to list Interior Steelhead Trout as Endangered may have immediate and significant impacts on a variety of activities which threaten the population, including fisheries, development, and other resource use.
Under SARA, immediate prohibitions against the killing, harming, harassment, capture and/or possession of Interior Steelhead Trout will come into effect. Such prohibitions may result in restrictions or closures of Fraser River Indigenous Food, Social, and Ceremonial (FSC) fisheries, the commercial sector, and recreational fisheries; and restrictions on or inability to pursue certain land-based activities.
Identification and Protection of Critical Habitat
Under SARA, Critical Habitat must be identified and protected for species listed as Threatened or Endangered. Critical Habitat is the habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the species, and is protected against destruction.
While it is possible to permit or exempt activities for certain purposes and provided certain preconditions are met, these activities must not jeopardize survival and recovery of the species. That is, the activities must not contribute to the species’ decline or impede its recovery.
DFO is actively engaged in the Thompson Steelhead Working Group which is currently engaged in developing recovery strategy and management plan for Thompson Steelhead. In addition, the Department is advancing general salmonid habitat restoration initiatives (e.g. improving water flows, stabilizing stream banks, removing barriers to fish migration and planting streamside vegetation).
In April 2016, British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations produced a Provincial Framework for Steelhead Management in British Columbia, intended to provide provincial direction for steelhead management and to guide the implementation of regional management actions in British Columbia. Strategic actions in this plan relate to: regulation of fisheries, habitat restoration and protection, engagement of stakeholders, First Nations, and DFO, stock assessment, licensing improvements, partnership with DFO through the existing Integrated Fisheries Management Plan, development of a risk assessment framework, and hatchery assessment.
For more information:
Species at Risk Program, Pacific Region 200-401 Burrard Street
Vancouver, British Columbia, V6C 3S4 SARA.XPAC@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
The bolded print is my own attempt to highlight a few points we might want to pay attention to. Watch out for that “threat” to the future of Thompson steelhead due to shifts in life history strategy. (Could that be the overwhelming negative force we’ve been missing lo these many years?!) Pay attention to the escape clauses in that “other listing considerations” piece. Beware the consultation trap. How many examples do we need where consultation is endless while the status quo prevails?
The Thompson Steelhead Working Group is classic. Five years in, a truckload of money spent, every level of government known to the Canadian landscape in the tent and the IFS abundance curve on a steep path to zero all the while. Process is the product.
About that Provincial Framework – can someone, anyone, please enlighten me on what influence that has had on IFS. Yes, I know it says 2016 but that document was around in an internal, essentially unpublished form for years and obviously had zero influence on the circumstances we find ourselves in today. Nice try though.
Finally, there’s that “hatchery assessment” reference again. How in the world does that re-surface at this late stage of broad recognition by the science community a hatchery program in a situation akin to the Thompson would never solve the interception fisheries problem and only hasten the elimination of anything resembling a wild steelhead. The Chilcotin would be even worse.
November 13, the day the COSEWIC recommendation is finally made public, holds the potential to be the most important day in the history of steelhead in British Columbia.