Squamish Nation intends to take the provincial ministry of environment to court if steelhead fish culture enhancement does not go forward on the Cheakamus River.
Randall Lewis, Squamish’s land management coordinator, is upset the ministry has turned its back on enhancement for steelhead, which suffered a 95 per cent loss in last summer’s caustic soda spill in the Cheakamus River when a Canadian National Railway tanker split open after a derailment in the canyon.
Minister of Environment Barry Penner, visiting the Tenderfoot Creek hatchery north of Squamish to help release 25,000 pink salmon fry into the Cheakamus on Monday, emphasized a decision has not yet been made as to whether steelhead enhancement will be part of the province’s rehabilitation plan for the river.
"We haven’t made a final decision," Penner said. "We will be going back to the (Cheakamus Ecosystem Restoration) technical committee next week for further discussion."Penner says ministry has not decided on steelhead enhancement — his staff say they have. Photo by Maureen Provencal
As a member of the CERT committee formed last fall to derive a recovery plan for the Cheakamus, Lewis said the ministry has already made a decision to not go ahead with steelhead enhancement, without consulting committee representatives that include Squamish Nation, CN, District of Squamish, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and B.C.’s Ministry of Environment.
"We got short-circuited somewhere," Lewis said. "I’m offended and everyone else sitting at the table is offended."
Although Penner said the ministry, which has jurisdiction over steelhead, has not made a decision regarding fish culture, a March 3, 2006 letter from a senior ministry biologist to the technical committee said the province will not take advantage of returning steelhead this month and "does not support fish culture as a restoration tool in the Cheakamus River."
Brian Clark, regional manager for the ministry’s stewardship division, discounted a steelhead program, saying the Cheakamus is designated a wild river and the ministry is committed to a natural recovery. Clark suggested instead "augmentation of neighbouring Mamquam River to provide recreational angling opportunities."
The Environment Ministry’s arguments failed to impress Lewis, who said Squamish Nation has a legal right to healthy steelhead stock.
Citing a breach of rights and entitlement, Lewis said he has recommended to chief and council that the nation’s legal counsel file a writ in provincial court.
"We don’t like playing these cards but when push comes to shove these species are integral to the watershed and have been for thousands of years," Lewis said. "Steelhead were at risk before the dump happened and now we’re talking about a species at risk of extinction because they’re not going to do anything about it."