Surrey, B.C. – The BC Wildlife Federation is calling for fundamental change in the management of salmon fisheries. It’s time to make the transition from non-selective gillnets to selective fishing methods historically used by Indigenous Peoples. The BCWF wants both levels of government to develop a five-year action plan for the Lower Fraser River fisheries to assist in the transition away from non-selective net harvesting.
This call for action and fundamental change in fishing methods comes on the heels of the recent announcement of self-suspension of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for sockeye, pinks and chum salmon by the Canadian Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Society. The MSC certification is supposed to be a conservation tool. It was intended to provide “the best environmental choice in seafood” to consumers and to create positive incentives that would improve the status and management of fisheries. This self-suspension reflects poorly on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and essentially confirms the department’s failure to manage B.C.’s salmon populations on a sustainable basis.
Endangered Interior Fraser steelhead (IFS), sturgeon and weaker Chinook and coho stocks are indiscriminately caught every year by net fishers targeting sockeye and chum salmon and, in 2019, pink salmon. The downward trend data speaks for itself and is the reason why these stocks have been subject to efforts to have them listed under the Species at Risk Act. DFO’s efforts to convince the public that all is well with these stocks through their mitigation measures have been an abject failure as these stocks continue to trend towards zero. Despite the negative impacts of the gillnet chum fishery on these endangered stocks, this fishery was certified under the MSC—thus making a mockery of the certification process.
“With the self-suspension of the chum and other salmon fisheries, it is now time to get it right,” says BCWF President Bill Bosch. “If this fishery is to be certified, then it needs to be conducted from now on using selective fishing methods in order to protect the weak stocks.” Otherwise, Bosch says the chum fishery cannot be considered sustainable hence not eligible to be certified since the endangered stocks are incidentally captured and killed by the gill nets.
The BCWF is not just critical of the chum fishery. The Fraser sockeye population is in dire straits with the 2019 spawner return at an all-time low of only 10 percent of its pre-season prediction of almost 6 million. The lower river sockeye gillnet fisheries targeting the stronger sockeye stocks are also by-catching weaker salmon stocks.
The primary causes of declining stocks are climate change, overfishing and habitat loss. Of the three primary causes of salmon declines, only fishing can be regulated to improve spawner numbers, at least in the short term.
The announced $142 million by the Federal and provincial governments (British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund [BCSRIF]) last summer was intended to address salmon conservation issues. The only effective method to improve salmon numbers immediately is through sustainable fishing methods. Unfortunately, BCSRIF did not fund a single project that would address selective fishing methods such as pound nets and fish wheels. BCSRIF is well-intended but has lost credibility with those interested in conservation and sustainable fisheries.
“At the rate, salmon are dwindling; it may be time to remove all nets from the lower Fraser,” says Bosch, who acknowledges this is a drastic measure but may be required for a desperate situation.
A fundamental change in the way DFO manages salmon fisheries is required. It is time to bring salmon management into the twenty-first century.