A Future for the Fishery

Our threatened fishing industry prompts a 10-point program to protect BC salmon.

by David Ellis

The first forecasts are in for commercial salmon fishing for 2000, and, not surprisingly, they're not good. Harvest opportunities for Fraser sockeye might range "from limited to none," says the DFO, and the northern troll fleet will probably be shut down for the season due to the concern for coho and chinook.

1) End open net cage rearing of Atlantic salmon
The rearing of Atlantic salmon, an "exotic" species when used in open net cages, continues. This is contrary to the DFO's mandate to conserve wild salmon. The DFO has established the position of Aquaculture Commissioner, who is actively lobbying for increased corporate investment. Meanwhile the Atlantic Salmon Watch Program (carried on in concert with the province) is trying to assess the damage done.

2) Herring Fishery Closure
A four-year moratorium on all herring fishing is now urgently needed in the Strait of Georgia. The issue of the low abundance of the resident populations of coho and chinook salmon, ling cod, and rockfish, and several key mammal and bird species in the Strait of Georgia and off the west coast of Vancouver Island is well known and is of great concern to the public. Yet the DFO has again set large herring quotas for the Strait of Georgia in the year 2000.

3) Catch Insurance
The need to develop a "catch insurance" scheme in the commercial salmon, herring, ground fish, and invertebrate fisheries, as recommended by Dr. Peter Pearse in 1982, is urgent. Without such a development, strong economic pressures (in part due to fishers facing bankruptcy), will make it increasingly difficult for the DFO to carry through with the coho salmon rebuilding measures.

4) Close mixed species fisheries
At the mouth of the Skeena River (where the migration timing of coho, sockeye and steelhead coincide) no amount of "wishful thinking" will ever make gill netting, trolling, or seining "selective," and this area must be permanently closed, by DFO regulation, to these three old methods of fishing. Similar regulatory closures for gillnetting, trolling, and seining, are needed in "nursery ground" areas.

5) Enforce habitat protection laws
The high temperatures being encountered in the Fraser River canyon following massive clearcutting in the upper watershed, and the total collapse of the Rivers Inlet sockeye following massive clearcut logging, are examples of issues that must be addressed.

6) Sockeye salmon rehabilitation
The major fish ways in the Fraser Canyon need to be redesigned and rebuilt, and throughout BC, hundreds of small sockeye stocks that remain at remnant levels now need to be rehabilitated. DFO technical staff can rehabilitate these stocks with a variety of short-term methods already used successfully in Alaska.

7) Protection Areas and Sanctuaries
These resources protect all marine life for future restocking of depleted areas and scientific study; protection is urgent. Similarly, the need is also urgent to establish no-logging Watershed Salmon Sanctuaries in the central coast and other areas where massive-scale logging continues to threaten wild salmon populations. Co-management planning at the community level, and especially pre-treaty negotiations with First Nations, must be at the top of the list, before coastal habitats are damaged by over-harvesting or logging.

8) Close salmon nurseries to "catch and release"
The issue of catch and release in the saltwater sport fisheries, the hatchery mark-only sport fishery program, sport fishing on chinook and coho "nursery grounds," and the policy of subsidizing the expansion of saltwater sport fishing, need to be re-assessed.

9) Close the big hatcheries
There is an urgent need to permanently close all large-scale coho, chinook, and chum hatcheries. Scientific evidence continues to mount that large-scale chinook and coho hatcheries have seriously contributed to the decline of these wild salmon.

10) Phase out bottom trawling
Research from around the world increasingly points to the need to move trawl gear away from all contact with the benthos or sea-bed. However, the use of destructive "roller gear" on hard bottom (often on sensitive "coral" ground) is increasing in BC.

* David W. Ellis, Executive Director, The Fish For Life Foundation, 3872 Point Grey Rd, Vancouver, BC V6R 1B4; ph (604)221-7577; fax: (604)221-7544

[From WS February/March 2000]

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