As the spring and summer fishing season rapidly approaches, the biggest question anglers have on their minds is: Will 2021 bring any relief from Chinook non-retention? The only one who knows the answer is the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, Bernadette Jordan. And if you ask most anglers and fishing-related business owners, the most noteworthy thing she has accomplished to date is to unify the public fishery against her, her Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the federal Liberal government.
This degree of publicly expressed and single-minded opposition to DFO policy has only happened a few times in the past. Nearly a decade ago, anglers united against the unreasonable allocation of Pacific halibut, where just 12% of the total allowable catch went the public fishery and the lion’s share went to the commercial sector. In the 1980s, anglers fought a long battle against the DFO and the commercial fishing industry over priority access to Chinook and coho. In both instances, anglers successfully advanced the case for public access to these resources.
Owen Bird from the Sport Fishing Institute of BC (https://www.salmonforever.ca/) summed up the current Chinook situation this way: “The Sport Fishing Institute has continually urged the Minister for access to sustainable Chinook fishing opportunities in the south coast, particularly in areas where that access was harshly restricted in 2019 and 2020. Data-supported and mark-selective fishery options in times and places that can support them are critical for the public fishery. A clear and early indication of those fishing opportunities, with access to abundant stocks elsewhere on the coast, is essential to assist small communities to recover and survive.”
The Sport Fishing Institute of BC has been representing the business side of the public fishery for more than four decades and is dedicated to promoting healthy fish resources and sustainable fisheries.
The Sport Fishing Advisory Board provides fishing advice to the Minister of Fisheries on west coast fishing issues. It has done so continuously for 52 years, but it is an advisory body and not an advocacy group. The Board works jointly with DFO management staff to develop data-supported fishing plans based on the best scientific information available; this is in order to conserve salmon and other species, while providing fishing opportunities in areas and at times that meet agreed-upon criteria.
This science- and data-based procedure was followed in 2019 and 2020 during the development of Chinook fishing plans to conserve weak runs of Upper and Middle Fraser River Chinook stocks. The fishing plans identified areas on the south coast where fishing could proceed, based on two criteria. First, there was no evidence of the presence of these important stocks of concern, and second, there was a high percentage of adipose-clipped hatchery Chinook combined with a small incidence of stocks of concern. The data used to support these decisions has been collected by the Science Branch for decades using coded wire tag recoveries, and more recently DNA samples taken as part of the Avid Angler program and other collection procedures.
The full SFAB public fishery proposal and key background data supporting the fishing plan for 2020—along with a set of maps showing the extent of lost fishing opportunities compared to what was proposed—can be found at https://publicfisheryalliance.ca/open-letter-background/. This is contained in a blistering open letter written by the Public Fishery Alliance, a broad-based angling organization, to Minister Jordan. The letter also asks why she did not follow the advice contained in the proposals, and why she seemed to be guided by principles other than science in making her decision to expand Chinook non-retention in 2020. The following excerpts from the open letter express these concerns and frustrations.
“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.”
“We do not comprehend your unwillingness to follow your mandate. The ban on keeping hatchery marked or abundant Chinook defies logic.”
“Failure to [follow the science] reinforces the common[ly] held view that science-based fisheries management and your mandate letter from Prime Minister Trudeau are not guiding your actions.”
The link to the full letter is https://publicfisheryalliance.ca/re-liberal-governments-unwarranted-devastation-of-b-c-s-public-salmon-fishery/.
Bob Zimmer, Conservative MP for Prince George, has taken up the cause. He raised the current Chinook situation in the House of Commons with a direct question to Prime Minister Trudeau: “Does your Fisheries Department manage by science?”
The video of both Zimmer’s question and Trudeau’s answer can be viewed at https://fb.watch/3Jp-8h8GYR/.
Jason Assonitis owns Bon Chovy Charters and offers salmon trips out of Sidney and Vancouver. These fishing locations are part of the much larger Georgia and Juan de Fuca Strait regions that have been affected by two consecutive years of Chinook non-retention.
Jason has a background in resource management, is the single biggest contributor of coded wire tags in southern Georgia Strait, and has been assisting the DFO with the Avid Angler and Chinook and coho diet projects. He is pictured with his son Leo admiring a Chinook taken on March 31 at Moresby Island near Sidney at the top of this article. This was the last day anglers could keep a Chinook for the bulk of the 2020 prime summer fishing season.
Jason has this message for Fisheries Minister Jordan: “The biggest ask from the Minister is to be truthful and transparent when making fishing decisions. As the owner of a family run fishing business, it has been devastating to watch our industry and cherished past-time being systematically destroyed by politically motivated fisheries policy. Strong science and logic need to prevail to benefit all Canadians, to provide consistent angling opportunity and sustain conservation based fisheries”.