Fisheries official denies cover-up claims over endangered rainbow trout research in British Columbia

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A senior Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) official has denied allegations that the federal government concealed scientific findings about a unique species of rainbow trout in British Columbia in an attempt to justify continued fishing trade that endangers the species.

The allegations stem in part from BC Wildlife Federation executive director Jesse Zeman, who said the federal government still won’t release peer-reviewed scientific research concluding that fishing should be restricted in order to save rainbow trout. rainbow in the Thompson and Chilcotin rivers from extinction. .

The species, a member of the salmon family, migrates to the ocean for much of its life, but hatches and reproduces in both rivers.

BC zoologists and conservation groups have warned of its perilous condition for years, and a annual update on the species last month by the British Columbia Ministry of Forests warned that its numbers were now at a historic low, with preliminary estimates that only 104 Thompson River rainbow trout and 19 Chilcotin Rainbow trout are spawning this year.

Speaking on CBC Sunrise Kamloops On Friday, Andrew Thomson, DFO’s Pacific regional director based in Vancouver, refuted claims that a recovery potential assessment for the species has not yet been published and that a science advisory has been published by DFO officials without the knowledge of scientists. .

“Certainly the [DFO] is very committed to sharing information as part of our scientific process,” Thomson said.

Assessment of recovery potential

Zeman argues that the main threat to rainbow trout comes from bycatch and salmon netting in Johnstone Strait and the Salish Sea off the south coast of British Columbia and lower Fraser. Therefore, DFO should prohibit these practices by designating them as endangered under federal species law. Risk Act.

In January 2018, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a group of independent advisers to the federal government, requested that interior Fraser River rainbow trout be listed as endangered. of disappearance.

BC conservation groups say the main threat to interior Fraser steelhead trout comes from bycatch and net fishing for salmon in Johnstone Strait, the Salish Sea and the lower Fraser. (Chris Furlong/Getty Images)

This prompted the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) to invite scientists to conduct a peer-reviewed recovery potential assessment of the species and to publish a scientific opinion on the basis of the evaluation of the same year so that the DFO refers to it in the development of its policies.

Thomson said the assessment can be viewed on DFO’s website. But Zeman said that document is in fact the scientific opinion and the actual assessment was never published.

Alleged DFO Interference with Report

Based on communication between DFO, CSAS and the B.C. government, accessible through freedom of information requests – which were seen by CBC News – Zeman says the federal agency hid the peer review to the public because it tampered with the scientific advice and made its policy recommendation very different from that of the assessment.

In a December 2018 email, DFO scientist Scott Decker said the B.C. government had complained about the federal agency’s unilateral change in formulating science advice.

The assessment said reducing salmon harvest frequencies is the only way to save rainbow trout from extinction, but the final version of the report said “allowable harm should not be allowed to exceed current levels” – language that Zeman said could be interpreted to mean that there is no urgency to list rainbow trout under the Species Act in Danger.

Zeman says it led to Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson decision in July 2019 to prohibit recreational fishing in the Thompson and Chilcotin rivers, but not to prohibit commercial fishing by subjecting the species to the law.

In an email dated October 2018, CSAS President Sean MacConnachie said DFO’s Associate Deputy Minister’s office changed the language of the science advice several times without his knowledge.

Two months later, in an email to DFO, BC fisheries director Jennifer Davis said the report’s findings were inconsistent with the consensus of the scientists who conducted the recovery potential assessment.

“A real concern around transparency”

Zeman says that earlier this year, DFO denied his freedom of information request to release the recovery potential assessment, meaning he will have to sue the federal government to access the document.

“We know DFO can do good science, but we also know that DFO science is not shown to the public,” he told the CBC show. South Dawn.

“There is a real concern around transparency.”

Eric Taylor, a professor of zoology at the University of British Columbia (UBC), has studied rainbow trout populations across the province for three decades and chaired COSEWIC from 2014-2018. There is very little transparency in how DFO manages rainbow trout research.

“Technically, it’s really a scientific fraud,” Taylor said. “If this report is not completely clean and completely truthful and honest, it degrades the credibility of the whole process.”

Taylor says DFO has conflicting mandates to promote commercial fishing and to conserve fish populations, and argues that the conservation mandate should instead be given to Environment Canada.

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