April 7, 2005
The Williams Report Offers Crumbs to Fishermen Rather Than An Action Plan
OTTAWA– “Vancouver lawyer Bryan Williams seems to think more negotiations, more studies, more reports and more meetings will protect sockeye runs in 2005,” said John Cummins, M.P. (Delta-Richmond East) “Williams knew nothing about the sockeye fishery before he held public hearings throughout British Columbia and unfortunately he appears to have learned little about the fishery after hearing from fishermen and fishery officers.”
Concerns were expressed about the ability of Williams to undertake an inquiry into the management of aboriginal fisheries on the Fraser above Mission given his activism in support of aboriginal causes. Many in the fishery believed that a judicial inquiry was needed so that the problem could be studied objectively with the authority to call witnesses and demand real answers from the government.
“His report confirms fears that Williams was the wrong man for the job. He lacked the authority to undertake an inquiry that would hold the government and the Department of Fisheries accountable,” Cummins said.
Williams admits that the Department refused to provide him a key report that might have identified why the Department was looking the other way when confronted with illegal fishing and the sale of illegally caught fish. He confesses that he was helpless to do more than plead. This secret report might have allowed him to set out a clear set of recommendations to ensure the Department made fish protection its first priority.
“The admission that the Minister refused to provide a key report on the department’s enforcement activities is confirmation that a judicial inquiry was needed to get to the bottom of this mess,” said Cummins.
The Williams report concluded that illegal activity in the aboriginal fishery above Mission was “rampant in 2004 and that enforcement against these activities was lacking.”
By 2003 he acknowledges that lawlessness had reached such levels that portions of the Fraser above Mission were “no go” zones for DFO staff and that neither the fishing nor the catch could be monitored in a meaningful way. While he acknowledges lawlessness reigned on the Fraser, the hapless Williams could do little more that recommend more talk:
· “DFO convene a meeting ... to assess the province-wide state of catch monitoring”;
· “DFO, First Nations and stakeholders establish a semi regular review of the status and adequacy of catch monitoring.”
· “DFO should focus on empowering user groups with the responsibility of enforcement”
· “In order to achieve agreements on these harvest numbers … DFO should employ a team of skilled and experienced negotiators.”
Management and Budget:
· “We recommend that an independent consultant be hired to review the situation and provide guidance to senior management.”
· “Research must be undertaken to verify whether the selective placing of set nets can have an adverse impact on upstream by depriving them of resting places ….”
Williams believed that “the most important question” he had to answer was “what happened to the 1.3 million sockeye which cannot be accounted for between the Mission Bridge and the spawning grounds.” He failed to do that and more importantly he failed to lay out a plan to ensure that the disaster will not be repeated in 2005 and in future years.
“Pity the fish and the fishermen who depend on them. After hearing the litany of failures by the Department with regard to the aboriginal fishery above Mission we are left without an action plan to prevent another disaster.” Cummins concluded.
Contact: John Cummins, M.P.
(613) 992-2957, (cell) (604) 970-0937, (604) 940-8040