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DFO office to remain in Squamish

DFO also confirms an extra officer will be added to office

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Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has committed to maintaining an office in Squamish that was previously at risk of relocation out of the region.

Last week, Sea to Sky MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones contacted Pique to confirm that the office will not be relocating this spring.

"As I've said all along, the DFO is absolutely going to fill the current vacancy in Squamish," Goldsmith-Jones assured.

As previously reported by Pique, the Squamish DFO office, which is responsible for fisheries monitoring and enforcement, was being considered for relocation to Steveston, with the property owner intending to sell the building once its existing lease expires on March 31, 2019.

This summer, local fisheries advocates warned of the consequences of the potential move.

"Without boots on the ground in our community, forget about it. It's over," said Sea to Sky Fisheries Roundtable member Dave Brown in a July interview.

"We get very concerned with regards to appropriate enforcement measures to protect our Squamish watershed fishing areas," added Squamish Nation environmental coordinator Randy Lewis at the time.

It's unclear where the new DFO office will be located, but Goldsmith-Jones said an assessment is planned to determine which facility would be appropriate.

"The space itself, we really want to pay attention to what the unique needs are," she said. "This is a time to look at operational needs and make sure we do an even better job of enforcement and monitoring."

Brown applauded the efforts of local advocates for sounding the alarm.

"It clearly proves that this community cares about the local salmon population and protecting fish habitat. Everyone got behind this; it was a bit of a rallying cry," he said. "It's sort of the same thing we went through with the cuts to the Resource Restoration Unit and the Salmon in Schools program. There was a backlash and eventually the government listened and came around and we had success."

Last spring, it was uncovered that the DFO planned to phase out its Resource Restoration Unit over three years, along with the Salmonids in the Classroom program, which, for four decades taught thousands of British Columbian students about the life cycle of salmon. The cuts were spared after a wave of public outcry.

But Chessy Knight, president of the Squamish River Watershed Society, questioned why "it has to come down to community and non-governmental environmental organizations ... to be pushing for these decisions.

"Yet again, it's all of us squawking and being the squeaky wheel, and it's just a little bit scary and frustrating."

In an email, a DFO spokesperson also confirmed that a second officer will be added to the Squamish office.

Prior to cuts to the federal agency during the Stephen Harper administration, three officers staffed the Squamish office; most recently, the office had only one officer, which makes enforcement difficult.

"You can't do a patrol (with less than) two officers; it's unsafe, they don't do it, and we respect that," said Knight. "That's why three is the magic number, so one person can be out sick or on holidays or at training, and yet you're still capable of responding to incidents and violations as they happen."

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