Madam Speaker, I am thankful to be able to further discuss the issue of the Somass River and the sockeye salmon run. I want to begin by underlining the real and significant importance of the Somass River salmon run in our riding. The Alberni Valley used to be a booming and thriving community that sent bucketloads of tax revenue to the federal government, thanks to a strong resource-based economy. This is no longer the case, as we have seen a tenfold increase over the last 10 years of raw logs, which is killing the value-added forest sector. Housing costs are skyrocketing, poverty is increasing, and the opioid crisis has taken its toll, as it has in other communities across B.C. and Canada. In fact, a recent StatsCan report shows that the Alberni Valley has the highest proportion of low-income people in British Columbia.
The nearby Somass River fishery represents an annual direct financial contribution of $12 million or more to the Alberni Valley and the surrounding Tseshaht and Hupacasath nations, and up to $40 million in spinoff activity annually. Historically, this run produces about 1.2 million, and up to 1.9 million, returning sockeye per year. This year we started the year with less than 170,000 forecast, and we hit just over 300,000. This is critical and is deemed to be in a red zone by the department of Fisheries and Oceans.
With a dramatically shortened season, our sockeye fishers took a massive hit to their income, and then most of them did not even have enough hours to qualify for employment insurance benefits. I want people to consider the impact on a seasonal worker whose entire industry is shut down for most of the season and who will receive no income and no financial support for the entire year.
We called on the government for extended EI. I took this to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who sent me to the minister of labour, who then sent me to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, and then the parliamentary secretary of that department came back and asked me to go back to the department of Fisheries and Oceans minister. We have been getting the runaround. We have not had any response. People are needing support in our communities. It was a ministerial department merry-go-round, and today I am still looking for an answer for my constituents.
This is what I really need to know. Were the qualifying hours for EI previously reduced for fishers on the east coast during a time of crisis? If so, can we do that for our fishers on the west coast, and if not, why not? My constituents need the government's help.
The other issue related to the Somass River sockeye fishery is the long-term health of the fishery. The Liberal government created the coastal restoration fund to help restore coastal aquatic habitats. We have had a group called the West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association, an incredible group, submit an application for funding under this program to enhance the Somass River sockeye run. Unfortunately, that application was rejected for what we think are questionable reasons. Time does not allow me to expand on this today, but I had a discussion with DFO officials and the minister through correspondence and in person, and I remain unconvinced of their reasoning. It is important to note that we actually received more money under the Harper government and the Conservatives for that river.
We know that the Somass River sockeye run is an important local economic driver for the Alberni Valley, the Tseshaht, and the Hupacasath and is a fragile, delicate ecosystem that is in a state of crisis. Knowing this, the Liberal government is still refusing to offer economic relief to our fishers, nor will it fund the restoration and enhancement of the Somass River fishery.
To close, what are we supposed to do, and what am I supposed to tell my constituents about the Liberal government's commitment to our economic and environmental well-being in Courtenay—Alberni?