Ignoring government science and enacting a third consecutive year of broad chinook closures has the potential to dismantle the public salmon fishery beyond repair, a prominent B.C. angler’s group fears.
In an open letter to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan this week, B.C.’s Public Fishery Alliance (PFA) called for the adoption of recommendations from an early-2020 fishing plan put forth by the federal Sport Fishing Advisory Board. Developed with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) staff, the plan allowed for minimal and sustainable opportunities on abundant chinook salmon runs while avoiding stocks of concern. PFA says the minister’s failure to adopt the plan defies logic and runs contrary to her mandate of providing important economic opportunities with the public resource.
“The PFA recognize Fraser Chinook recovery will take many years,” the letter reads. “We also understand recovery of these wild Chinook is attainable, as is providing sustainable fishing opportunities without detriment to stocks of concern. These dual objectives are critically important. Our sector must have some form of meaningful access to Chinook stocks that are not in trouble, in order to maintain hope for surviving these extremely difficult times.”
“Since 2008, increased fishing restrictions including closures are the only tools the department has used. The recovery so far, is a wretched failure.”
A spokesperson for the minister said the 2020 measures were not taken lightly and were, in fact, based on the best available science after extensive consultations with stakeholders and Indigenous groups.
“These decisions are very difficult, but they are necessary if we want to see this species survive and return to its former abundance.”
“We recognize the challenges being faced by all Pacific salmon fishers, including recreational anglers. We continue to explore opportunities for sustainable fishing where possible—several were opened during the season last year once we had data to support that decision.”
The PFA would like the minister to lift bans on marked hatchery chinook in Howe Sound, Lower Georgia Strait and other areas identified in the proposal, as well as US hatchery chinook in the Juan de Fuca Strait.
They worry that by blocking the catch of hatchery fish has stopped the recovery of coded wire tags from chinook in 2019 and 2020, impacting a critical scientific assessment tool.
On Jan. 25 Jordan responded to a parliamentary petition put forth by retired Surrey resident and angler Bill Braidwood, calling for an amendment to the 2020 management measures that acknowledged the existence of healthy runs.
She said DFO has launched pilot projects to mass-mark hatchery chinook in conjunction with gene-based research to determine the impacts on wild stocks.
Braidwood called this a “glimmer of hope”, but Conservative MP Mel Arnold for North Okanagan-Shuswap, who sponsored the petition, said the response didn’t go far enough. He is pushing Jordan to support a selective fishery for hatchery chinook by April 1, the beginning of the tidal licence year.
In a letter to Black Press Media Arnold and two other B.C. MPs, Bob Zimmer for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies and Ed Fast for Abbotsford, repeated their call for the minister to adopt the 2020 recommendations.
The MPs want to see a reversal on the ban for hatchery chinook, arguing B.C.’s annual release of 40-million chinook, combined with Washington state’s 70-million chinook, could support a healthy public fishery without impacting wild fish.
“Only non-threatened stocks would be harvested, while threatened stocks in all cases would be avoided using highly effective selective fishing methods. Minister Jordan rejected the proposal, and instead chose to repeat and expand Chinook non-retention in 2020,” the MPs wrote.
“For communities across BC, this is unacceptable. British Columbia’s public salmon fishery is the most economically valuable salmon fishery on Canada’s west coast. There’s no question that it is an integral part of BC’s broader public fishery, valued at over $1.1 billion annually, and one that our communities depend on.”