January, 2004 Thompson Steelhead/Water licenses

Ms. Joyce Murray

Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection Province of British Columbia

(by e-mail)

Dear Minister Murray

Re: Thompson River Steelhead

The Steelhead Society of B.C. is extremely concerned about the continuing population decline of Thompson River steelhead. The world-famous Thompson River steelhead catch-and-release sport fishery was on the verge of closure this fall due to the lowest predicted escapement in 25 years of records, much to the dismay of both anglers and the local communities that depend on them.

As I’m sure you are aware, one of the most critical issues facing Thompson steelhead is insufficient summer stream flows in the Nicola, Coldwater, Deadman and Bonaparte River systems. Until these issues are resolved, the Steelhead Society supports a moratorium on issuing any new water licenses on these important rearing tributaries. Such a moratorium would also benefit endangered Thompson River coho salmon stocks.

In September, 2003, the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council published a report titled "Conflicts Between People and Fish for Water: Two British Columbia Salmon and Steelhead Rearing Streams in Need of Flows" (the full text of the report is available at www.fish.bc.ca).

The report made several recommendations specific to the Nicola/Coldwater systems at page 56. In their news release (click here to read news release), the PFRCC summarized these recommendations as follows:

"1. The establishment of a moratorium on water licensing for diversion or extraction.

2. A review and update of the Nicola Basin Strategic Plan, now 20 years old.

3. The development of a hydrological budgeting process, throughout the watershed, in order to allocate water to fish and agriculture in a fair, transparent and legal manner.

4. The launching of a license-compliance and beneficial-use audit of existing water licenses and water use in the basin.

5. The updating of the flow-release regime that is part of the Nicola Lake dam-operation plan to protect fish and meet appropriate water requirements.

6. The exploration of opportunities to buy back water licenses for fish and ecosystem values similar to initiatives undertaken in parts of the western United States."

The Steelhead Society asks if the provincial government supports these recommendations, and if so, what steps have been taken to implement them.

The Steelhead Society was distressed to learn that the provincial regional fisheries management section in Kamloops was very recently cut from a total of four positions to three positions. Ironically, one of the major duties of the lost fisheries biologist position was resolving water use issues. In our view, particularly given the critical state of Thompson steelhead populations, provincial fisheries management capability was inadequate even prior to this recent cut. We urge you to provide sufficient additional funds in order to meet what we is considered a crisis situation for Thompson steelhead, and also to reinstate the cut position.

We look forward to your response.

Yours truly,

Poul Bech


Vice-President,

Steelhead Society of British Columbia

cc Premier Gordon Campbell

Joy Macphail, MLA

Dave Chutter, MLA

David Anderson, MP

BC Federation of Fly Fishers

BC Federation of Drift Fishers

BC Wildlife Federation

Kingfisher Rod & Gun Club

Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council

Pacific Salmon Foundation

The Osprey, c/o FFF Steelhead Committee

Watershed Watch

Wild Salmon Center

Wild Steelhead Coalition

Mark Angelo

Jim Ryan, Spences Bridge

Laurie Kingston, Spences Bridge