Local politicians are protesting the impending closure of Nelson’s federal Fisheries and Oceans office and the loss of its two staff biologists.
Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko and Andy Shadrack, chair of the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments, have both written the federal fisheries minister, asking for public consultation first.
Shadrack says the Nelson field office was established when it became clear the government couldn’t meet its obligations from its regional headquarters in Vancouver, and while it originally had five people, it has since been reduced to two biologists and one support person.
He noted Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the lead agency in developing a partnership on Kootenay Lake between First Nations, various provincial agencies and local government, and further, the Columbia River Treaty is subject to notice of renegotiation in 2014.
“We therefore believe that the government would be remiss if it closed the Nelson office,” Shadrack told minister Keith Ashfield. He asked Nelson and Cranbrook be included as meeting sites for public consultation this summer, before the axe falls.
Atamanenko echoed Shadrack’s concerns and said the closure and re-assignment or layoff of staff is especially troubling coming soon after BC Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program closed its Nelson office, with the loss of five biologists.
“I am concerned that … consultation processes with key stakeholders have not yet been finalized and made public,” Atamanenko told the minister, urging him to name exactly who will be consulted, and when and where those meetings will take place.
He said he’s also concerned that removing knowledgeable habitat and protection staff will result in “after-the-fact enforcement and fines rather than beneficial enhancement and protection of important interior fish populations that aren’t tied to the ocean.”
The Nelson fisheries office is one of several in BC and the Yukon earmarked for closure, according to biologist Otto Langer, in a memo posted at watershedsentinel.ca. Offices at Mission, Campbell River, Prince George, Williams Lake, Smithers, and Port Hardy would also be gone, leaving only Whitehorse, Prince Rupert, Kamloops, Vancouver and Nanaimo.
The closures are part of a reorganization to habitat management included in the recently passed Bill C38, which the government says will “increase efficiency and focus on priorities.”
It says the current approach subjects all activities, from large industrial development to small personal projects on private land, to the same rules, “which is unnecessary to protect the productivity of our fisheries.”
Instead, the government will focus on larger commercial fisheries and “draw clear distinctions between different types and sizes of projects and waterways.”
A senior communications adviser with Fisheries and Oceans Canada couldn’t confirm whether or when the Nelson office will close. But Tom Robbins did say employees may be asked to move or be redeployed.
He said 130 positions will be lost across the country — a cut of about 25 per cent to habitat management staff — although he wasn’t able to provide regional breakdowns.
“We will ensure that we have the resources and capacity needed under the new redesigned program,” Robbins said.
According to Langer, the Pacific region will be reduced from 92 people to 60, and staff will have to compete for the remaining positions. In 2003, habitat protection had 120 employees.
The Nelson office is on McDonald Drive.