Op-Ed: Fishing with Rod on DFO Fraser River Management

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Today, after the announcement that the Fraser River will have an extended closure to all salmon, Rodney Hsu, of the famous FishingwithRod.com resource took to social media. With permission, he agreed to have Island Fisherman Magazine publish his opinion and frustration about the management of the Fraser River fishery and today’s closure notice.

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.

Photo Courtesy FishingwithRod.com

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.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in Island Fisherman Magazine Opinion Editorial (IFM Op-Eds) are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Island Fisherman magazine. If you’re interested in writing an IFM Op-Ed, please send an email to [email protected] or visit Letters To The Editor.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Sockeye do not and never did willingly take a hook or lure in nontidal water. The act of flossing or lining was intoduced to intentionally hook sockeye with bare hooks and long leaders on the oursude of the mouth. In otherwards “snagged”. It was than deamed to be a meat fishery to promote another angling opportunity. Conservation officers turned a blind eye to the practice.
    Unfortunately it has escalated to the point where the method is practiced to hook all species of salmon and steelhead. i.e. Thompson and Skeena R.
    Without restrictions and enforcement sport fishing will never be as we once new it????
    A travisty. My grand children will never be introduced to this. In my opinion the Fraser R should be closed indefinitely until until a selective fishery can be established and improved DFO management!!!!!

  2. Hi Rodney Hsu

    The articles and YouTube editorials about the Fraser river salmon decline are not right and you should not be making the indigenous living and fishing in Canada for 10 thousand years the villains and reason for the decline.

    Please watch (salmon warriors) and do more researcher on fish farms. If you care about Fraser river salmon stocks you would be doing everything possible to have all fish farm moved out of the line of salmon fry and smolts migration routes .

    As beautiful healthy smolts and fry leave the river and migrate pass the fish farms they are destroyed by sea lice (again watch salmon warriors.) Also if you look at the years of Fraser river salmon large declines , the timing does match the huge growth of salmon farms.

    Solution is move all fish forms out of the salmon fry and smolts migration routes or inland holding pens.

    I next issues for you to put your efforts to would be the commercial openings and their timings to protect the Fraser river salmon from declining. Example ; the Fraser river had the biggest sockeye run return ever ,like lets say 20 30 million fish .
    In four year later the offspring of that huge run returned . The government open the Fraser river to the commercial nets from mission to the ocean every three days < a sockeye travels 25 to 50 kms a day. So it would take three days for the Fraser to have fish back fill in the river from the ocean to mission only to be wiped clean again by the next commercial opening . Opening every three days , Plus the government even had a Seiner commercial openings out at the mouth of the Fraser river and ocean . Net that reach all the way to the bottom. (plus regular ocean commercial openings) Four years later the sockeye gone . In eight year we went from the biggest run to not able to fish run .

    Another side note to this would be to put some efforts too the commercial openings in the USA water where our Fraser river sockeye swing into when some of our runs circle around the top end of Vancouver island and swing into USA water only to get nail by USA commercial fisherman put at the same time we in BC are not fishing because of declined stocks.

    The next issues for you to put your efforts in to save the Fraser river salmon stocks is the over population of seals. The seal should be culled in my opinion. I read last year that the First Natation's in the lower mainland wanted to cull seals as a business plan but I never read any more about it . In my opinion the indigenous nations all the way up to Alaska should get a seal quota . This would help the Indigenous with a new industry , it would help salmon stocks and bait fish stocks and it would believe it or not make the seals stronger. Example: If you had ten dogs but only enough food for Five dogs so when you split the food for five in to food bowls for all ten. All ten dogs are not strong and full of food, but if you remove five dog , all five dogs are strong and healthy.

    In my option with the seal population gowning so fast year after year something really bad is going to happen when all the food is gone .

    I seen a seal in alouette river passed 216 ave eating a steelhead, I see them all the way up to Hope B.C , way up Indian River . etc

    Another issue is bottom bouncing . I have seen Bottom snagging bouncing fisherman catch ever type of fish in the Fraser from salmon to sturgeon to pike minnow bouncing .
    Bottom bouncing if wrong . all salmon bite a lures even sockeye. you can catch them from your boat at the mouth of the Fraser, you can catch them in Chilliwack lake trolling a lure.
    and yes you can catch them with a lure in the Fraser. When sockeye are open I troll for them in the Fraser river and do well . When the tide is right in the Fraser river it like trolling in a lake and the sockeye strike lures like crazy.

    Any ways I think it is wrong for you to post OP- Ed and You tube videos' making the indigenous living in Canada and fishing the Fraser river for thousands of years the Villain's of the Fraser river salmon decline.
    This is so wrong and only fuel the problems and relations on the river between recreationally and Frist Nations people.

    The true problems are Fish farms , DFO and commercial openings timings , Seals .

    Recreational and Frist Nations fisheries is not the number one or number two problem on the list.

    Thank you
    Steve tretick
    Please watch salmon warriors

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