Led by a group of Colquitz River salmon stewards, the daily fish counts (morning and evening) at the fish fence behind Tillicum shopping centre are a draw for community members in November. File Photo

DFO stuns local volunteers with termination of educational programs

Funding that reached a million B.C. residents cancelled by Department of Fisheries and Oceans

A group of leading salmon stewards from Saanich and Greater Victoria are shocked and disappointed to learn the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is cancelling funding towards its successful and popular educational programs in B.C. and the Yukon.

“It’s all terminated to save $400,000, which is chump change compared to the expenditures of the DFO,” said Peter McCully, 42-year volunteer with the Goldstream hatchery and a biotech who supports many of the programs and is deeply invested in the programs. “We’ve had more than a million students [in B.C. and the Yukon] go through the curriculum and take that with them as adults.”

The decision to cancel the funding means the end of the local Salmonids in the Classroom incubator program, which has about 20,000 salmon fry in about 105 classrooms (or about 3,000 students) throughout the region and Gulf Islands. Once large enough, the fry are released into 15 local streams including the restored Douglas Creek in Mount Douglas Park and Colquitz River.

McCully was told the educational component doesn’t fit into the DFO mandate, and is being cancelled based on a recent review.

While McCully believes his contract will likely end as of July 31, Louise Girouard of DFO communications said the educational and technical support contracts for this year will go ahead as planned but that DFO willl spend the next year looking at new ways to deliver the programs.

“When the regional DFO staff were told [last month] they were gobsmacked, this is strictly an Ottawa decision,” said McCully, who started at the Goldstream hatchery as a volunteer in 1975, two years before the salmon enhancement initiative in local streams even started. “To me it doesn’t make any sense, especially for the rationale of the program. If you’re growing awareness of how to steward salmon, and teaching what impacts salmon habitats, that to me fits the mandate.

“There is no other program like this in Canada, and Ottawa has, again, forgotten about the west. We need to make noise about this, and fight to protect these programs as we protect our coast line and our salmon.”

After 15 years building community and school partnerships to restore local watersheds, Peninsula Streams executive co-ordinator Ian Bruce, who has led the restoration of salmon bearing water arteries, including the Mahon Creek at Royal Oak middle school, sees the Stream to Sea program as a window into the life of pacific salmon.

“There are no other opportunities for students to witness the early stages of this life cycle, and in the classroom,” Bruce said. “This experience is key to the evolution of a stewardship ethic.”

Stream to Sea, like the Goldstream Hatchery and other community involvement activities, leverages $10 for every tax dollar spent, McCully said. Significant Stream to Sea partners locally include school districts, Pacific Salmon Foundation and Goldstream and Sooke Hatcheries.

Dorothy Chambers leads the Colquitz fish fence counting program that sees more than 1,500 coho come through in peak years.

She says the cancellation of the funding guts the cycle of learning that students go through, including the fall visits to the fish fence behind Tillicum shopping centre she voluntarily leads.

“The reason [the class visits to the fish fence are] so successful is because of the Stream to Sea program,” Chambers said. “They’ve got the aquarium, the coho eggs, and the kids are fastidious about monitoring the eggs, the temperature and the oxygen in the cold water environment.”

Because of the class program students learn the importance of keeping a clean watershed.

“The passion and interest starts with the school program, and when they see the fish return to Colquitz it’s full circle. It’s pretty powerful, four years later, to see a 20-pound fish with a long-hook red nose that might have come from your classroom.”

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