Vancouver, BC (June 25, 2014) — In anticipation of large predicted returns for a handful of the Fraser River’s 44 sockeye salmon populations this summer, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has more than quadrupled the number of endangered Interior Fraser River coho salmon that can be killed as unintentional “bycatch” in the sockeye fishery. Conservationists from Watershed Watch Salmon Society, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust say the official fishing plan was released 3 weeks late and also allows for increased harm to many other depleted salmon stocks.
“The Fisheries Minister has shown yet again that her primary allegiance is with the big fishing companies, and not the vast majority of British Columbians who want to see their depleted salmon populations rebuilt,” said Aaron Hill, a biologist with Watershed Watch. “It should be called an ‘overfishing plan’.”
Most of the sockeye salmon returning to the Fraser River this year are the progeny of those that spawned in 2010—the largest return in over 100 years. While fishermen and conservationists are both optimistic that the large runs of sockeye will materialize this year, fish from abundant populations will be migrating back to their home rivers alongside depleted populations including Cultus Lake sockeye, and Sakinaw Lake sockeye, which are classified as “endangered” by the federal government’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
“These depleted stocks were once abundant,” said Misty MacDuffee of Raincoast Conservation Foundation, “and the strong stocks of today could be weak in the future. We can’t just base our fisheries on the strong stocks. If we managed our financial assets the same way, we’d all be broke.”
The conservationists say that the official fishing plans make little allowance for new “stock-selective” fishing that would be a “win-win.” They argue that abundant sockeye returns could be harvested with far less damage to depleted populations if more fishing effort was focused in locations where the strong stocks can be fished in isolation from the weaker stocks—where First Nations sustainably harvested salmon for centuries—rather than increasing fisheries in areas where weak and strong stocks are mixed together.
“We were hoping to see the fishing plans make more room for sustainable First Nations in-river fisheries,” said Greg Taylor, a former fishing company executive now working on behalf of Watershed Watch. “We know that allowing high numbers of salmon to spawn has many benefits – both ecologically and economically. It is actually possible to protect our salmon and eat them, too.”
Now approved by the Fisheries Minister, the fishing plans take retroactive effect June 1, setting management rules for all salmon fisheries on Canada’s West Coast.