Friday, August 31, 2007

Learning lessons from the Fraser

The Pacific Salmon Foundation, flush with more than 25 million dollars in funding is launching an ambitious plan of managing watersheds and trying to better understand the problems facing British Columbia’s salmon stocks.
With a new chairman on board, the foundation is hoping to make the right decisions as this salmon season comes to an end and they decide where and when to allocate their funds to projects across the province.

In Thursday’s paper, The Daily news took a look at what they are all about and where they are going.

Pacific Salmon Foundation hoping to learn from Fraser
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Page one

The Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) has some big plans for the coming years, one of the most important being changing the public’s attitudes and behavior when it comes to fish.

Newly appointed chairman of the PSF John Woodward has taken over as head of the foundation at a critical time, when issues of increasingly low salmon counts are being reported across the province of British Columbia, but also when funding is at an all-time high.

“This year, the PSF has launched into a huge program on the Fraser, where we’ve got $10 million from the provincial Living Rivers fund, $10 million from DFO, and $5 million from the Salmon Endowment fund, plus a lot of private money, all aimed at the Fraser and how to revamp the Fraser,” said Woodward.

“So we’ve been incredibly busy. Our community programs are our core business, and our volunteer group now is well over 30,000 working in the province.”

The PSF is funding a number of new initiatives happening across B. C., from the creation of water basin councils that will help manage watersheds to new science for tagging and tracking fish activity, all designed to help better understand the problems facing salmon stocks.

“With a long term focus, we’re going to deal with things like being able to understand what’s happening to fish in the ocean, and being able to do a better job of counting fish, which is always a perennial problem that leads to conflict and strife,” said PSF Executive Director Paul Kariya.

“Let’s do some work on fresh water, let’s do some work on habitat, lets’ do some work on relationships. So we’ve got a multi-faceted strategy for the Fraser, and we hope to raise a lot of money and put it go good work.”

As opposed to the Pacific Salmon Commission, who generally make recommendations to DFO for closures and lobby the government, the PSF’s role is primarily as the non-partisan funding body, recognizing strategically where to place their limited funds across the endless number of projects throughout the province.

“A part of anybody giving away money to do work is people questioning the work, saying it doesn’t need to be done. Others will ask why we aren’t doing the more important thing, and others will ask why we’re using one group instead of another, or why First Nations are or are not involved,” said Kariya of the endless scrutiny facing the PSF.

“All of those things we get in e mails, phone calls and letters, and it requires fair amount of negotiation and skill to make sure we don’t become the issue, because we want to stay neutral and focus on the fish.”

The foundation always prepares itself for the end of summer malay, when fishery- and salmon-related topics seem to dominate the West Coast media, even though the issues are year round.

While the mostly negative attention is always cause for concern, it does help raise public awareness on what needs to be done and is currently being done.

“Fish is always on the news this time of year, because it’s either a good year or bad year and things happen. But we’re finding more and more people are willing to do some volunteer work and help resurrect the streams or help with a new attitude which is great,” said Woodward.

“Our provincial government is really terrific, they’re really bending over backwards lately with the B. C. Salmon Forum and Living Rivers, so everything’s a whole lot better than it was.”

PSF fundraising happens all year round, with Woodward hopeful the number of events they host will double before the end of his term as chair.

Last year alone, the foundation was responsible for funding 116 projects with a combined cost of $5.5 million, something else they are hoping to double in coming years.

“If we can get things working on the Fraser properly, we can move that into the Skeena, Bella Coola, Kitimat,” Woodward said.

“The Fraser still produces between 75 and 80 per cent of all salmon in the province, so it’s still the big mother it’s going through it’s problems. But if we can get that fixed, we can take the blue print and put it anywhere.”

Kariya says that because their efforts and goals are always long-term it’s hard for some people to see the impact their projects are having because the results aren’t immediate.

“If you think of a sockeye that returns on a four-year cycle, you’re talking 16 or 20 years before you can see or feel you’ve got results, and even then you can’t control all of the variables so it’s very difficult to sometimes realize that,” said Kariya.

“It’s difficult from a number of perspectives, because you’ve got people who donate money to us to do the work, and many of those folks want to see immediate results. But we’re concerned for the long-term, so we’re working on initiatives that will hopefully prevent some of these things in the future.”

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