By Mariah McCooey-Although salmon stocks are somewhat precarious on the south coast, this year’s north coast salmon season appears to be shaping up reasonably well, according to DFO. The salmon season begins in early June, and DFO is predicting that the quotas will remain similar to last year’s.
One of the factors affecting the southern runs is the near-record dry winter. Without the melting snowpack that feeds the rivers, the depth and temperature of the water can be an obstacle to salmon heading upstream. The snow in our region has been about average though, said Bert Ionson of DFO headquarters, but they are keeping a close eye on it as well as other factors. If the spring is too warm, then snow can dissipate too quickly, causing problems.
But it’s not all good news – Mr. Ionson is predicting that there will again be several commercial closures this year, although they will mostly be on the west coast of Vancouver Island and nearer the lower mainland.
So does that mean that all the southern boats will flood the north and fish it out? “No,” Mr. Ionson explained, each boat is licensed for a specific area, and there is a cap on how many total can be caught. Once that quota has been filled, the season is closed, except to recreational and sports fishers, who are allowed to fish pretty much year round.
The process DFO uses to determine the total quotas for any given year is very complex.
DFO looks at environmental factors as well as fish counts to come up with a total figure. They estimate the number of fry leaving the spawning grounds, he said, and use that number in combination with stats on the returning “three” and “four” fish (referring to their age upon return to the river) to come up with estimates. There is a fairly strong relationship between these numbers and the actual ones that show up, he said.
But no matter what the outlook is for this coming season, it doesn’t look good for Old Massett, where DFO’s long-standing restrictive policies have created a legacy of unemployment and social problems.
Old Massett’s John Disney said that DFO’s allocations of salmon are based on politics, not science. The sportsfishing lodges, he said, are allocated an almost unlimited amount of salmon, based on the “phony studies” indicating that, fish for fish, the salmon caught in the lodges are worth more than those caught by commercial fishermen.
But this is based on “shoddy methodology,” he said, because by the time the commercially-caught salmon lands on a plate in New York for $30 a steak, it has been nothing but profit all the way down the line.
Meanwhile, communities like Old Massett are being deprived of their livelihood and traditional food source.
“It’s getting at the very root of the culture,” said Mr. Disney. “With no access to the commercial fishery, it also stops the flow of food fish. It’s lost commerce, lost food.”
This year, he added, there are no Haida boats fishing out of Masset. Only eight years ago, there were 20; 15 years ago there were over 50.
Equally saddening is the fact that a whole generation – the first in thousands of years of Haida history – are growing up without the knowledge of fishing. Nine thousand years ago, while Europeans were “mooching around in a cave,” the Haida were catching black cod, said Mr. Disney, a fact that he finds unbelievable. Cod live on the ocean floor, usually under about 600 feet of water – yet Haida fishermen were so skilled, they could catch them, even in the rough conditions that are characteristic of the islands.
“It’s just devastating,” he said. “The Haida are so dependent on the marine environment, and now we don’t even have access to the resource.”
And it’s a continuing downward spiral, as the maintenance of boats requires money earned from catching fish. Gas, electronics and boat paint are all expenses that are increasingly more difficult for fishers to cover.
“And the end result is massive unemployment.” said Mr. Disney. “January was the worst I’ve ever seen here. Social problems like you wouldn’t believeÂ… We’re just not in the game anymore.”
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