Fisheries official denies cover-up allegations over investigation into endangered BC Steelhead | TSWT News

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A senior Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) official has denied allegations that the federal government has covered up scientific findings about a unique species of rainbow trout in BC in an attempt to justify continuing commercial fishing that endangers the species.

The allegations come in part from Jesse Zeman, executive director of the BC Wildlife Federation, who said the federal government still won’t release peer-reviewed scientific research that concludes fishing should be restricted to keep steelhead in the Thompson and Chilcotin regions. save rivers from extinction. .

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

Zoologists and conservation groups in BC have been warning of its dangerous condition for years, and a annual update on the species last month by BC’s Department of Forests warned that numbers are now at an all-time low, with preliminary estimates that only 104 Thompson River Steelhead and 19 Chilcotin River Steelhead will spawn this year.

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Speaking on CBCs Daybreak Kamloops on Friday, Andrew Thomson, the DFO’s Vancouver-based Pacific Regional Director, refuted claims that an assessment of the species’ recovery potential has yet to be published and that a scientific advisory report was prepared by DFO officials without the scientists’ knowledge .

“Certainly, the [DFO] is deeply committed to sharing information as part of our scientific process,” said Thomson.

Recovery Potential Assessment

Zeman argues that the main threat to the steelhead comes from bycatch and salmon net fishing in the Johnstone Strait and Salish Sea off the south coast of BC, and the Lower Fraser River, and therefore the DFO should ban these practices by enforcing them. marks as endangered among federal species. at Risk Act.

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

Conservation groups in BC say the main threat to the inland Fraser steelhead comes from bycatch and salmon net fishing in Johnstone Strait, the Salish Sea and the Lower Fraser River. (Chris Furlong/Getty Images)

This prompted the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) to invite scientists to conduct a peer-reviewed assessment of the species’ recovery potential, and to conduct a scientific advisory report based on the assessment in the same year for DFO to reference in its policy making.

Thomson said the review can be found on the DFO’s website. But Zeman said that document is, in fact, the scientific advisory report and the actual review was never published.

Claim of DFO interference in report

Based on the communication between DFO, CSAS and the BC government accessed through freedom of information requests – which have been spotted by TSWT News – Zeman says the federal agency hid the peer-reviewed assessment from the public because it manipulated the scientific advisory report and changed its policies has made recommendation very different from that in the review.

In a December 2018 email, DFO scientist Scott Decker said the BC government had complained about the federal agency’s unilateral change in the wording of the scientific advisory report.

The review said lowering the frequencies of salmon exploitation is the only way to save Steelhead from extinction, but the final draft of the report stated that “tolerable damage should not exceed current levels” — language that could be used, according to Zeman. interpreted as meaning there is no urgency to include Steelhead in the Species at Risk Act.

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

In an October 2018 email, CSAS Chair Sean MacConnachie said the Office of the Deputy Secretary of DFO edited the language of the scientific advisory report multiple times without his knowledge.

Two months later, BC’s director of fisheries Jennifer Davis said in an email to DFO that the report’s conclusions are inconsistent with the consensus of scientists who conducted the assessment of the recovery potential.

‘Real concern about transparency’

Zeman says the DFO rejected his freedom of information request early this year to publish the assessment of the recovery potential, meaning he will have to sue the federal government for access to the document.

“We know that DFO can do good science, but we also know that DFO science is not shown to the public,” he told TSWT’s Dawn South.

“There is a real concern about transparency.”

Zoology professor Eric Taylor of the University of British Columbia (UBC) has studied steelhead populations in the province for three decades and chaired COSEWIC from 2014 to 2018. He agrees that there is very little transparency in the way DFO is used. handles steelhead research.

“Technically, that’s really scientific fraud,” Taylor said. “If that report isn’t completely clean and completely honest and overboard, it degrades the credibility of the entire process.”

Taylor says the DFO has conflicting mandates to promote commercial fishing and conserve fish populations, arguing that the conservation mandate should be given to Environment Canada instead.

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