A 30-year-old salmon enhancement program that engages thousands of students in B.C. has been cut by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)without warning or consultation.
This week DFO contacted contractors who deliver the Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) to tell them the news.
“It is unbelievable that overnight the program is being made null and void,” said SEP co-ordinator Sue Hemphill who has delivered the program in the Williams Lake area since 2006.
“We received an e-mail last Thursday about it and I got an official phone call on Monday that our contract is at an end and there is no renewal.”
In the Williams Lake area alone 350 students participated in the program this year.
They have cared for the eggs, watched them become alevins and then fry, which they are now releasing into the Williams Lake River.
“We are seeing citizens not trusting science, but when you have programs like this our kids make connections,” Hemphill said. “The students bond with the fish, guard them and become stewards. Without this experience that would not happen.”
Under SEP, DFO provided $14,000 in funding per year to operate the program and supplied the eggs and tanks.
“This is years and years of work wasted,” Hemphill said.
As part of SEP, every year Hemphill organizes a salmon trip where high school students go out for three days to the Quesnel River Reseach Centre and help harvest Quesnel Chinook Salmon eggs and sperm for the program.
That program will also be cancelled because it’s only done with Fisheries and Oceans support, Hemphill said.
On Wednesday the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc announced $1.4 billion in new funding for his department.
When asked about the cuts to SEP, he responded it was a small portion of the program that the department said “wasn’t core to the actual mandate of the department.”
“But as I said earlier, first of all, all of the classroom planning for September of next year will go ahead as planned,” LeBlanc told media.
Reacting Hemphill said LeBlanc’s comments did not make sense.
“He insists no school programs have been cancelled even though all education co-ordinators have been told they will not be providing the stream to sea program in the fall.”
“This makes it very had for schools to know who to trust,” Hemphill said.
Saying SEP doesn’t fit DFO’s “core mandate” ignores the fact salmon live in two places, she added.
Mountview Elementary School teacher Amy Kolinsky’s Grade 1 and 2 students came to Scout Island Wednesday morning to release their fry.
“From a teacher’s standpoint it was great to have such a wealth of knowledge come into our classroom,” Kolinsky said of Hemphill. “The students were so excited. They learned about the life cycle of the salmon and how to feed them.”
Judy Hillaby, a restoration biologist with DFO, also brought a hatchery-raised Chinook salmon for the students to see.
“I will extract the main organs so the students can have a look,” Hillaby said as she worked at a table inside the nature centre.
Kathleen Singbeil teaches Kindergarten to Grade 3 at Rosie Seymour Elementary/Secondary School in Canoe Creek, two hours from Williams Lake.
When she arrived with her students for a fry release Wednesday afternoon and learned her students could very well be the last ones to participate in the program, she said cancelling the program was “just terrible.”
“It’s so great for the kids. It’s hands-on learning and they have been so engaged.”
Cariboo-North MP Todd Doherty told the Tribune this week he began receiving complaints about the cuts last week.
Describing the cuts as “unacceptable,” Doherty said it’s known the program enhances salmon spawning grounds as well as provides education.
“Salmon are a critical species within our rivers and streams and lakes and now the Liberals are gutting the program,” Doherty said. “They talk about more science and transparency and this flies absolutely in the face of everything they are preaching.”
Doherty said 34,000 students have participated annually in the program for the last four years.
A petition to Save The Salmonids in the Classroom Program for Schools Across BC was launched this week by change.org.