Local MP Pam Goldsmith-Jones says she’s continuing to push for a dedicated fisheries officer for the lower Sunshine Coast, and thinks the recent appointment of North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson to the fisheries portfolio is a sign that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is taking the B.C. coast’s concerns seriously.
Fisheries enforcement was in the spotlight over the summer as the public started organized efforts to report suspected illegal fishing and overharvesting and lobby Goldsmith-Jones.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has approved a third officer for the Powell River office, but there’s been no movement on reopening the office on the lower Sunshine Coast.
Goldsmith-Jones announced recently that DFO will be keeping its Squamish office open after saying over the summer that it planned to relocate the office to the Lower Mainland. “I want to give 100 per cent credit to the advocacy in the community. It is just extraordinary,” Goldsmith-Jones told The Squamish Chief, adding that an additional fisheries officer will also be assigned the Sea to Sky Corridor.
As for reopening the office on the lower Coast, “I raise it often,” Goldsmith-Jones said on Eastlink Community TV’s Parliamentary Talkback program Oct. 12. “I’ve [also] been fighting to ensure the existing [Squamish-based] officers stay in Squamish, because they also reinforce what’s needed here.”
Goldsmith-Jones said despite some new resources and funding, DFO is still recovering from cuts made by the previous Conservative government.
“This is fully the responsibility of our government now, but DFO was gutted and even though we went through the treasury board review with flying colours and got 1.4 billion put back into DFO, it still isn’t enough… I raise this constantly in Ottawa.”
Goldsmith-Jones also had an opportunity during a recent visit to the area to update people on the perennial issue of derelict and abandoned vessels. At least two problem vessels on a list to be assessed and possibly removed sank over the summer.
Goldsmith-Jones said in one case the owner was notified and wasn’t interested in taking any action. She said the file is now in the hands of Transport Canada.
She said she understands that Coast residents are frustrated by the time it’s been taking to file applications, get funding for assessments and then apply again for backing for removals under federal programs.
She said the programs are designed so that local communities, who have the best sense of where the problems are, set the priorities.
“It is a new program, and I would welcome feedback on how well it’s working and how it could work better as we design something that is really going to have impact,” she said. “I agree with what we’re hearing, which is we can’t continue to be expected to do everything, but that knowledge has helped us tremendously in setting priorities and beginning to address the problem,” she said.
According to Goldsmith-Jones, legislation to “give teeth to the fact that we expect owners to be responsible for their vessels for their full life” will soon become law, giving the government more enforcement options and penalties that will be a strong deterrent against abandoning boats. “That would be the hope, yes, that when you assume ownership of a vessel you know what you’re taking responsibility for and what the consequences can be.”
– With files from The Squamish Chief