Photo credit: Jessica Rodriguez

Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Deception Over Species at Risk Population

The BC Wildlife Federation and conservation partners have been calling on the federal government to list and manage Thompson and Chilcotin River steelhead under the Species At Risk Act (SARA). In February of this year, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) concluded an emergency assessment and found both populations are at imminent risk of extinction.

The BCWF wants fishing that intercepts endangered steelhead in the approaches to and in the Fraser River to stop. In 2017, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) approved commercial chum salmon gill-net fishing which allowed up to 20 percent mortality of the returning Thompson Chilcotin steelhead. This is a low estimate since there are other net fisheries on the river not accounted for.

In a May 8, 2018 letter to Harvey Andrusak, the president of the BCWF, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada states a proposed four-week rolling window closure for salmon fisheries of “approximately four weeks is expected to protect 90 percent of the Interior Fraser River steelhead.”

Government is not telling the truth about these closures. A DFO document, titled, “Proposed 2018 Fisheries Management Measures to Support Recovery of Interior Fraser River Steelhead (IFR SH),” states that it expects 90 percent of the IFR SH return will only be protected 43 out of 100 years.  So DFO only intends to protect 90 percent of IFR SH less than half the time. This unacceptably misleading.

Provincial government (the agency charged with steelhead management) data show the proposed rolling window will protect less than 60 percent of returning IFR steelhead.  The historical data on run timing and migration suggests a rolling fisheries closure of greater than two months is required to protect 90 percent of the run — worlds apart from what DFO has told the public.

DFO states it will manage these fish through its Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) while it reviews the COSEWIC assessment.

This approach is similar to what DFO did with Sakinaw Lake Sockeye (which now sees 0-1 fish return per year) and Cultus Lake Sockeye which has suffered a 40 percent decline since 2002.  A recent paper released by the UVIC Environmental Law Clinic conducted on behalf of the BC Wildlife Federation showed that the Federal Government’s approach of ignoring the Species at Risk Act in favour of IFMP is an abject failure for salmon and steelhead. 

Read the full BCWF Submission here.

The letter sent to Andrusak also states this approach affords steelhead more protection than interior coho.  Upper Fraser River coho collapsed in 1994 and never recovered.  Coho fishing has been closed since the late 90s; DFO has “managed” these fish through the IFMP with no meaningful signs of recovery.  More importantly, IFR steelhead are at imminent risk of extinction, while coho are not.

The BCWF fears that the agency responsible for our wild salmon is deliberately deceiving the public to justify the status quo, and is willfully pushing IFR steelhead towards extinction. 

Andrusak said, “It is a sad day when our federal government claims to protect 90 percent of endangered runs, when the data suggests it is only protecting them 43 percent of the time.”

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