Normally as we approach the end of August during odd years, most of us are anticipating with excitement for the upcoming Fraser River pink salmon fishery. Instead, we are now dealing with a series of absurd management decisions by an agency which really does not care to have a better understanding on what the Lower Fraser River recreational fishing sector needs.
Here is a quick overview of what have taken place so far and what you can expect for the remaining part of this year. Salmon fishing has been closed in the Lower Fraser River to date due to expected low abundance of Chinook and sockeye salmon returns. This closure has included some saltwater recreational salmon fishing closures as well as all Lower Fraser First Nations’ communal fishing closures (with the exception of some ceremonial openings). Originally, this closure was scheduled to end on August 23rd for the recreational sector, with the option of a pink salmon fishery on the table if run size is allows it. This window of opening was expected to last until September 20th when a 42 day salmon fishing closure kicks in to coincide with the run timing of endangered Interior Fraser River steelhead (Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead) until November 1st.
Because of the poor sockeye salmon returns which coincide with the pink salmon run, “low abundance exploitation rate” (LAER), basically a term for small amount of incidental by-catches, now applies to these stocks. DFO is allocating all of this “LAER” for the Lower Fraser River First Nations’ Chinook salmon communal fisheries, which will by-catch a certain number of sockeye salmon while harvesting Chinook salmon. The end result is that recreational anglers cannot fish for pink salmon because this department believes anglers would by-catch sockeye salmon while targeting pink salmon and there are no by-catch allowance left after allocating all of them to First Nations’ fisheries.
Furthermore, the resource managers have suggested that Chinook salmon returns are poor to date so a closure for pink salmon is also to prevent Chinook salmon being by-caught.
So here is the problem. 😒
Since about ten years ago, my colleagues and I on the Sport Fishing Advisory committee have been actively pushing for regulatory changes that would allow selective fishing methods. Meetings after meetings, these proposals have been dismissed until now it’s simply ignored. In ten years, we could have developed fisheries which would only target one specific salmon. Gear restrictions such as leader length restrictions, allowance of one particular fishing method, bait ban, could easily be implemented so anglers could target sustainable salmon stocks such as pink salmon. Instead of having one blanket closure from the mouth of the Fraser River to the Fraser Canyon, we could have area-specific openings such as the tidal portion of the Fraser River where the possibility of encountering a sockeye salmon is slim to none. We could have reduced the daily quota to find a middle ground, instead of having either a high daily quota for an opening or a completely closure. We could have developed specific guidelines such as the requirement of a catch and release net to ensure all released fish are kept in the water so post-release mortality could be lowered even more to minimize impacts. Instead, the answer from this department has been, “It can’t be done, so status quo is best, which means a blanket closure is our only option.”
To suggest that Chinook salmon returns have been low and use it as another excuse to justify the closure of a viable fishery of another species is laughable. In this past week, the Albion test fishery daily catches have been double of last year, and more than triple of the year before. Does everyone remember what we were doing in August 2018? Apparently by-catches of low Chinook salmon stocks were not a concern while everyone was enjoying the abundant sockeye salmon catches. If Fraser River Chinook salmon returns are a concern this year, why is it open for retention for our saltwater sector in Area 29-3 and beyond (where anglers are enjoying some fantastic fishing right now), and First Nations’ communal fisheries are currently taking place every weekend?
To add insult to injury, currently the Fraser River pink salmon return is tracking at P75, meaning that it will likely be 7.5 million fish or more, much higher than we first anticipated. The Lower Fraser River anglers may retain perhaps 10s of thousands in a two or three week opening, a tiny fraction of the entire stock. These fish are off limit to you now, not because you have an impact on endangered salmon stocks, because the Department of Fisheries has no interest in looking into alternatives to create sustainable fishing opportunities for you.
The recreational fishing industry can no longer rely on the Fraser River salmon management to survive. Unlike commercial fishermen, we are not just sitting on the side line waiting for the green light to fish. Stores cannot simply stock up inventories and pray for openings in the last minute. Guides cannot promise guests who may be travelling from abroad that they would have a chance to experience salmon fishing. People plan their vacation times ahead to coincide with fishery openings. This isn’t about a bunch of fishermen who are whining about not being able to catch fish and make money however, it’s more than that. Anglers are not always looking for fish to harvest, but we are looking for opportunities to RECREATE. The Fraser River pink salmon fishery is as family friendly as it gets. It is the perfect venue where parents teach their kids how to catch a salmon. It is where friends gather once every two years to experience the thrill of catching some nice fish and consuming food from a sustainable source. At the personal level, my 3 year old is going to miss the chance of netting a fish that mommy would have caught like what his brother did four years ago.
It is where memories are made and a closure like this when there could easily be alternatives, kills the community. These closures are also killing fishing licence sales, hurting organizations such as Go Fish BC. If it continues, we will lose a generation of future stewards.
By the way, this isn’t about favouring First Nations while closing our fisheries. First Nations’ fisheries are prioritized and they have also been reduced significantly this year. Congratulations to their leadership for doing so. This whole situation could have been avoided if this department has committed to create selective recreational fishing opportunities, give First Nation leaders a better understanding on what this sector wants and is willing to work for to achieve it. Instead, there is a communication gap between the two groups and we both have been used as excuses for closures.
It is absurd that the Lower Fraser River recreational fishing sector, the group with the largest number of users in this province, with the smallest impacts on fish stocks, and the most flexible when it comes to modification in methodologies to avoid incidental by-catches, is the only group being completely kept off the water by closures for reasons other than conservation. I’m not frustrated by the fact that we will not be fishing for pink salmon, but unprofessionalism and lack of accountability pisses me off. Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, your department and its attitude needs an overhaul.
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