Salmon school program nixed

Terri McClymont will be in a somber mood when she watches the annual ritual of local school children releasing salmon fry into local rivers over the next few weeks.

It will be the last time they do so under a long-running program that saw classrooms run their own hatcheries.

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The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has decided to nix the Salmonids in the Classroom program, McClymont said this week.

Since 2008, she had held the contract to deliver the program to local schools.

Province-wide, 35,000 kids went through the annual ritual each year for the last 40 years.

In Prince George and Vanderhoof, this year's edition involved 36 classrooms, 21 aquariums and 785 students.

The program cost Ottawa about $400,000 to bring to B.C. schools, according to McClymont, who said she had no idea it was going to be on the chopping block.

"It was a slap in the face," McClymont said.

Ending the program is one of a series of cuts to the DFO's salmon enhancement program. The DFO is also ending production of steelhead and cutthroat trout at hatcheries, phasing out its resource restoration unit and will not be renewing contracts for fisheries specialists who provide technical support.

Those moves have caused an uproar among groups further south who work on restoring salmon habitat on a volunteer basis.

McClymont said the moves are part of a larger strategy to take money devoted to protecting inland streams and rivers and the wild salmon who use them and put it towards salmon farms and hatcheries on the coast.

"The hatchery fish, once they're released, they come right back to the hatcheries so they're not bringing the nutrients inland that the ecosystems high in the north rely on," McClymont said. "All those nutrients that the spawners bring up the streams and rivers to feed the forest, to feed the animals, play a vital link in all our systems. That's going to be very detrimental."

McClymont said she had a waiting list of 10 schools wanting to join the program.

Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty called the moves unacceptable and said parallel steps have not been taken on the East Coast.

"My question is, what do they have against the West Coast?"

According to a statement from the DFO, reductions are being made to better align its salmon enhancement program with the department's "core mandate in terms of regulatory responsibilities."

It said several salmon enhancement programs will continue and will receive

$27 million in federal funding this year.

It will also continue to operate its 15 large hatcheries and six spawning channels.

"DFO remains committed to the conservation of wild Pacific salmon," read the statement, stressing its continued ocean-based programs and efforts.

Releases by area students begin tomorrow in Vanderhoof.

They will continue next week in Prince George at the Cottonwood Island Park boat launch and run until June 15.

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