Sockeye salmon spawning in the Adams River in B.C.'s Interior.

DFO cuts to hit fish habitat protection offices

Loss of one third of Pacific region fishery biologists spells new risk for salmon, critics warn

Fishery observers predict more trouble ahead for already struggling salmon runs in B.C. if Fisheries and Oceans Canada goes ahead with leaked plans to eliminate a third of its habitat biologists in the Pacific region.

DFO’s fisheries protection branch would be slashed from 90 to 60 workers, according to internal documents.

“A few years ago they had 120, so we’re looking at a 50 per cent reduction,” said Otto Langer, a former DFO biologist and habitat assessment manager.

The cuts are part of a broader move by Ottawa to balance the budget in part through reduced spending in the federal civil service.

But Langer said fewer front-line scientists will leave salmon in B.C. rivers and streams dangerously exposed to ecological damage from pollution, development and other threats, such as disease and overfishing.

“I think they’re trying to save industry from any hassles in getting approvals,” he said, calling it a reflection of the “anti-science, anti-environment” bent of the Harper government as new oil pipelines are pursued as a national priority.

Langer said the ability to protect the environment will be further hit because many senior biologists are to be offered buyouts or transfers and be replaced with more junior ones.

“You’re probably losing 33 per cent of your staff and probably 80 per cent of your experience.”

A large habitat protection office in New Westminster would be eliminated and other offices and staff would be cut upstream along the Fraser River, he said.

Plans to reduce DFO’s budget by approximately five per cent were leaked more than a year ago, but few observers expected the hit to be so heavily focused on habitat biologists.

Watershed Watch Salmon Society executive director Craig Orr said the cuts come after earlier federal moves this year to loosen environmental assessment rules and weaken the fish habitat protections contained in the Fisheries Act.

“There’s going to be far fewer people in the federal government to look after fish habitat,” Orr said. “It seems to be part of a larger mandate of government to downgrade environmental protection.”

DFO representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.

Federal staffing levels were raised as a concern at the Cohen Inquiry into the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon.

Evidence from DFO memos showed some staff in Interior field offices had been warning for years they were unable to keep pace with proposed developments that could threaten habitat and they could no longer pursue lesser violations that would have previously been prosecuted.

One report on habitat enforcement tabled with the inquiry showed the number of patrols, sites checked and violations observed plunged at least 75 per cent each after previous DFO staff cuts were imposed in 2005.

The Cohen report is to be released Wednesday.

Just Posted

Vehicle crashes, flips on its side in downtown Mission

The vehicle came to a stop in front of the Mission Post Office

Abbotsford woman charged after police find loaded gun in bag at mall

Danielle Rigdon, now facing 11 charges this year, was on house arrest at the time

Historic ‘Sumas Powerhouse’ in Abbotsford going up for auction

Former B.C. Electric substation - now a redesigned luxury property - open for bids starting Friday

PHOTOS: Mission Farmers Market holds annual indoor event

Seedy Saturday attracted a large crowd to Heritage Park School as spring approaches

BC Ferries has no plans to implement debit for vehicle ticket payments

Debit accepted for foot passengers, on-board purchases for all vessels

VIDEO: Can you believe it? This B.C. hill pulls cars backwards up a slope

Sir Isaac Newton had clearly never been to this Vernon anomaly when he discovered gravity

Canucks hang on for 7-4 win over Senators

Horvat nets 2 for Vancouver

European, Canadian regulators to do own review of Boeing jet

Air Canada plans to remove the Boeing 737 Max from its schedule at least through July 1

Prime minister defends Liberal budget measures as sales effort gets underway

Conservatives under Andrew Scheer say it’s a spree funded by borrowing against the future

Mayor meets with B.C. health minister on homeless taxi transfers

Two homeless people were discharged from Surrey Memorial and sent to a Chilliwack shelter

B.C. lottery winner being sued by co-workers

They claim he owes them $200,000 each, in a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver

Teacher reprimanded for conduct towards special needs student

Alan Stephen Berry told vice principal he did not have time to use positive strategies

‘Full worm super moon’ to illuminate B.C. skies on first day of spring

Spring has sprung, a moon named in honour of thawing soil marks final super moon until 2020

Having phone within sight while driving does not violate law: B.C. judge

The mere presence of a cell phone within sight of a driver is not enough for a conviction, judge says

Most Read