Every year about 220,000 people in British Columbia buy a Salmon Conservation Stamp, which they attach to their saltwater fishing licences.
Anglers buy that $6 stamp without complaint, believing the money is coming back to the West Coast to help restore salmon runs.
In fact, only about 20 per cent of the funds are returned to B.C. in the form of an annual grant to the privately run Pacific Salmon Foundation. The other 80 per cent goes into general revenue, in Ottawa. And we can only guess as to how wisely that money is spent.
For years, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, a non-profit group that supports fisheries conservation work all over the province, has been asking the federal government for a better deal.
The Foundation wants the government to stop lopping all that money off the top, saying 100 per cent of the funds should come back to the West Coast.
Two former Conservative fisheries ministers, John Fraser and Tom Siddon, together with a group of prominent B.C. business leaders, have weighed in on the topic recently, expressing support for the foundation's request.
Charles Jeannes, president and CEO of Goldcorp Inc., Ross Beaty, Chair of Pan American Silver Corp and Alterra Power Corp., Daniel Sitnam, president and CEO of Helijet International Inc. and Wynne Powell, president and CEO of London Drugs, London Air Services, TLD Computers, and Sonora Resort, have all signed letters supporting the Pacific Salmon Foundation proposal.
So far, the government has not budged.
"It's bloody nonsense," Mr. Fraser, fisheries minister under Brian Mulroney in 1984-85, says of the government's practice of keeping the stamp funds. "If you want people to support the fishery, and habitat restoration which now is a key issue with the changes to the Fisheries Act, then give them an incentive. Let them know that what they are paying for with that stamp is going to be used to sustain the resource."
Mr. Siddon was the fisheries minister in 1987 when the Pacific Salmon Foundation was created, and he introduced the salmon stamp specifically to fund that organization.
"Regrettably, somewhere along the way the federal treasury has progressively treated the Salmon Conservation Stamp as a 'cash cow' source of general revenue," he states in a letter sent earlier this year to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
Mr. Siddon said the foundation does a remarkable job of leveraging the money it gets from the government, taking $6-million in stamp revenues over the years and using that to generate $65.4-million in economic benefit. Along the way, they have funded some 1,300 volunteer run salmon conservation projects.
Brian Riddell, president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, says that because of funding shortages, his organization each year turns away about half the applications it gets. That means there are a lot of streams out there that aren't getting restored because the community groups can't get any money to do the work.
Mr. Riddell has been to Ottawa before, trying to get his hands on the money B.C. anglers have sent there. And he will go again.
"I understand that dealing with Ottawa is a process," he says patiently. "I am actually still very hopeful we will get it."
But this year is quickly drawing to a close – and so far there has been no sign that when a new salmon stamp is issued in 2013, the money will go where it should – back to B.C. to fund salmon work.
The federal government has been draining the pockets of West Coast anglers long enough. It needs to dedicate the stamp fund to the Pacific Salmon Foundation and at the same time it should increase the charge to $16. That would give the Foundation $4-million a year – which the organization could leverage into $40-million.
With that kind of money, B.C.'s salmon fortunes should improve dramatically.