The federal Fisheries Department’s decision to deny funding for Sooke’s new fish hatchery has made the work of the Juan de Fuca Salmon Restoration Society much more difficult, says Dave Saunders, a society spokesperson.
“We feel abandoned by the province and more convinced than ever that the people in Ottawa who appear to be making the decisions on this project have no respect for the work we’ve done in B.C.,” Saunders said.
“I’m supposed to be out in the community raising money to complete our Charters Creek facility, but I can tell you that all the bad news has made that very hard to do.”
When the B.C. Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund was first developed, it seemed like a program that would quite naturally align with the goals of the salmon restoration society, noted Saunders.
The stated focus of the fund was “to encourage capital investments … to support the protection and restoration of wild B.C. (salmon) stocks.”
“It seemed like a no-brainer that we would get some funding from the program,” Saunders said.
But recently the society received a notification that its funding application was denied.
The $142.8 million program was jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments, with B.C. contributing about $42 million.
“We were under the impression that, at the very least, the $42 million that B.C. contributed would stay in the province, but then we get this letter that tells us that our application for funding has been denied.”
The Fisheries Department’s letter, sent under the federal department’s letterhead, makes no reference to the provincial funding partner.
“Following an assessment of your preliminary proposal, your project has not been selected to move forward in the funding process at this time. Interest in the fund is extremely high and multiple expressions of interest related to supporting community-based hatcheries were received through the first round of application intake,” the letter stated.
The letter suggests the fund’s sponsor will work with the rejected applicants over summer to discuss their projects.
The letter is misleading in that every hatchery request was denied, Saunders said.
The denial of funding comes on the heels of other announcements by the federal government this spring that have severely limited salmon fishing in the region and have dealt lethal blows to several fishing charter businesses in the region.
“When the fishing closures were announced, I can tell you that I lost $250,000 in donations for the project. People were just at rock-bottom and it was hard to generate any enthusiasm for our project. I can’t imagine what this latest announcement is going to do,” Saunders said.
It’s a sentiment shared by longtime society volunteer Wally Vowels, who despite the bad news, said the project will continue.
“The truth is that we’ve always had to go it alone. We’ll just have to work that much harder to make this happen,” Vowels said.
Local politician Mike Hicks, another supporter of the new hatchery project, expressed his own frustration at the funding denial but expressed confidence in Saunders’ ability to raise the necessary funds in the community.
“I’m sort of speechless about the whole thing,” Hicks said.
“I believe that our hatchery is the most important development in restoring the hatchery run, and I’m confident that this great group of volunteers will get it done.”