Salmon subcommittee hushes up hiatus

If Carl Sidney has his way, the public won't know why the salmon subcommittee that he chairs was shuttered for five months this year. "Everything's working now," he said. "I don't want to screw things up.

If Carl Sidney has his way, the public won’t know why the salmon subcommittee that he chairs was shuttered for five months this year.

“Everything’s working now,” he said. “I don’t want to screw things up.”

And he doesn’t appreciate being told that it’s his job to explain to the public the affairs of the subcommittee.

Nor does he like being reminded that the subcommittee’s website states it is “committed to improving communication between itself, other agencies, First Nations and the public.”

“It’s not my job to go and point fingers at people and governments,” he said. “My job is to work together and try to make things happen. There’s a lot of stuff that happened that the public could get pretty upset over. That’s not my way.”

Other committee members wouldn’t want him to publicly air the subcommittee’s woes, either, he said. And he casts aspersions on anyone who wants to know about it.

“You don’t want to print all the good news. You just want to print the garbage.”

At least he’s talking. When asked about this subject during an earlier interview, he answered by getting up and storming out of the room.

Still, his answers are not a promising sign of the health of a body that’s supposed to be “the main instrument of salmon management in the Yukon,” according to the Umbrella Final Agreement.

The subcommittee’s summer of disarray may help explain some of the more erratic public statements made by Sidney during this period.

Asked what restrictions should be imposed on the Bering Sea pollock fishery, which has an annual chinook bycatch of about 80,000, Sidney declared the billion-dollar fishery should be closed the moment a salmon is found in their nets.

“As soon as they start catching chinook salmon, shut her down,” he said in August.

Not surprisingly, few took this bargaining position seriously.

The subcommittee’s primary purpose is to recommend annual salmon allocations to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. DFO also consults with the subcommittee during any mid-season changes. The subcommittee’s members are appointed by First Nations and Ottawa.

According to DFO, the salmon subcommittee failed to submit the necessary paperwork for it to receive its 2009-10 budget. This meant the subcommittee operated without a budget until September, when a spat between the two parties ended.

This wasn’t the first time the subcommittee hadn’t filed the proper papers. In past years when this occurred, DFO let the money flow anyhow.

But DFO was determined to tighten up its procedures this year, in accordance with recommendations of a 2007 review of the implementation of Yukon’s land claim deals.

DFO had no fewer than nine exchanges with the subcommittee between March and June to try to sort out the subcommittee’s budgetary problems. But the two parties were at loggerheads, because the subcommittee wanted an additional $76,000 to hire another worker. DFO said no.

Sidney made the feud public in July, when he addressed the Council of Yukon First Nations’ general assembly. DFO wanted to control the subcommittee’s budget, he complained.

In response, the council passed a resolution that scolded DFO for taking a narrow view of land claim deals.

During the meeting there was also talk of DFO evicting the subcommittee from their office. That’s not true, said Frank Quinn, DFO’s area manager.

“We didn’t kick them out,” he said.

The subcommittee wanted to move to new premises to help ward off the impression the committee is an extension of the federal government, said Quinn. It was their idea.

The subcommittee recently relocated into an office adjacent to the fish and wildlife board. The two bodies are also now sharing administrative staff to make better use of money.

The subcommittee’s hiatus prevented the body from holding regularly scheduled meetings, but it still had additional funds to help send Sidney to attend various public meetings through the summer months, said Quinn.

This wasn’t the only turf war the salmon subcommittee had waged. It was supposed to send its budget to the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, which it is a subsidiary of. But the subcommittee had not done so in a decade, the 2007 land claims review found.

And, disliking the appearance of being subservient to the fish and wildlife board, the subcommittee removed the “sub” from its name and took to calling itself the Yukon Salmon Committee. The federal review criticized this decision, which has since been reversed.

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