Photo: Don't let our school mascot disappear

Students of Science 7 at Pender Harbour Elementary-Secondary, with teacher Mr. Walls, explore nearby streams.

By Theresa Beer, Communications Specialist

Mr. Walls' Science 7 class at Pender Harbour Elementary-Secondary School on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast is getting a first-hand lesson in standing up for something they believe in.

During field studies, students learned their school mascot—the genetically unique Sakinaw salmon, designated endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and the last sockeye run in Georgia Strait—are at risk of extinction. In 2003, only one fish returned to Sakinaw Lake to spawn.

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Worse yet, a newspaper article reported their local Fisheries and Oceans Canada office would close this spring. The office's community advisor helped teach students about the sockeye and was integral to repopulation efforts for Sakinaw Lake. He supported monitoring and recovery of locally endangered stocks and educated the community.

The class decided to do something about it. They sent letters to the Prime Minister's Office and Gail Shea, Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, invited their local MLA and MP to speak about salmon and DFO closures and planned a trip to Victoria to be in the legislature when the issue was discussed. They also presented their MP with a petition to parliament in hopes of having it read in Ottawa. They spelled out their concerns in letters:

"My father is a commercial fisherman, just like many other men in my community. If you close the DFO office and remove the people that work there, it may affect the local economy."

"I love my environment and want fisheries to stay and help save my environment."

"The Sakinaw salmon is a big, important part of Pender Harbour and we would appreciate it if you could put the effort to make them not go extinct."

As part of larger cutbacks, DFO closed all Pacific Region offices except for Whitehorse, Prince Rupert, Kamloops, Vancouver and Nanaimo, reduced staff from 92 to 60, consolidated the Pender Harbour Conservation and Protection office—which will remain open with its community advisor until 2015—and relocated two officers.

The government says recovery efforts for the Sakinaw sockeye, including habitat improvement and a hatchery program started in 2001, are continuing to rebuild the stock; 550 were counted in 2011.

Mr. Walls is proud of his students' passion to save their mascot: "They've become socially responsible young leaders in their community through the process of refining their personal voice to bring the plight of Sakinaw salmon to the larger Canadian society."

June 24, 2014

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