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Sea to Sky needs steelhead biologist, say fish advocates



The Sea to Sky region is in danger of depleting its steelhead and there's no one in government to watch over them, the vice-president of a fisheries advisory body told Pique in an interview.

Dave Brown, a Whistler realtor and vice-chair of the Squamish-Lillooet Sportfish Advisory Committee, said in an interview that Sea to Sky's waterways are in danger of losing their steelhead populations because, he claims, the Ministry of Environment doesn't have a steelhead biologist to monitor and manage them.

The current steelhead biologist, Brown said, has been on sabbatical teaching at the B.C. Institute of Technology since December and he doesn't know when he's coming back.

"Right now it's not clear whether there will be a steelhead biologist for Region 2 (Sea to Sky, Sunshine Coast and Fraser Valley)," he said. "It appears that they've taken a direction where steelhead management is not a priority. Steelhead numbers in this area are already impacted from the CN Rail spill and also from the flood of 2003.

"They've been dwindling and without active management we could be looking at British Columbia looking towards very small numbers or close to being nonexistent."

David Currie, a public affairs officer with B.C.'s Ministry of Environment, said in an e-mail that the ministry continues to employ a steelhead biologist for the region and that he would be back in his job full time in May.

In the meantime, he said the biologist "continues to be involved in ongoing steelhead activities in the region including the recovery activities in the Cheakamus." Baseline data is also being collected on the Seymour and Capilano river watersheds as a "precursor to water-use planning."

Rod Clapton, chair of the South Coast Steelhead Coalition, a group that advocates for increased management of steelhead, said stocks of steelhead have "depleted considerably" over the last decade.

"There's been a demise, a freefall for the last 10 years," he said.

Clapton noted a summit on steelhead was organized at the B.C. Institute of Technology in November of 2008. Several government MLAs were in attendance, including West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Joan McIntyre; Environment Minister Barry Penner; Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom; and West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan.

Politicians gave "verbal commitments" that steelhead populations are a concern and supported calls for a province-wide steelhead management plan, but they didn't commit any money, Clapton said. Now, almost a year and a half later, Clapton is wondering what the point of the summit was.

Asked what's come out of the summit he said, "diddly, zippo."

Brown, Clapton and other fisheries advocates say a steelhead biologist is crucial for the region because they can provide input on how to improve the habitat.

Brown cited as an example CN Rail's program to recover steelhead in the Cheakamus River after an August 2005 derailment dumped 40,000 litres of sodium hydroxide into the river. The spill was estimated to have killed about half a million fish.

"The biologist who was in place had five days a year to be able to participate in meetings for this recovery program and now it's not even clear if that's taking place," Brown said.

Other examples include decisions around the Brohm River, a stream that could be impacted if the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort is built at its headwaters.

"Decisions are being made on water use by the ski resort and there's no biologist able to participate in those meetings to give input," Brown said. "We've got steelhead in the river right now spawning... but there's not a biologist to be able to look at what's working and what's not."

Clapton acknowledged the ministry has said the steelhead biologist would be back next month but "most certainly, it would be a part-time biologist, whereas in the past we've had four to five people looking after steelhead in the region."



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