Interior Fraser Steelhead Spawning at Historic Low Numbers
The news that Interior Fraser steelhead (IFS) are spawning this month at historic low numbers is alarming. It requires immediate intervention by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the Province, and cooperation from lower Fraser River First Nations to ensure the conservation of these populations. The iconic and world-renowned Thompson River steelhead that numbered in the low thousands a few decades ago now number less than 200. The Chilcotin numbers in 2020 are less than 50. There is only one measure that can be implemented immediately to ensure that higher numbers of adult steelhead reach the spawning grounds on the Chilcotin and Thompson rivers next year (2021). Governments should announce a moratorium on the 2020 chum salmon gillnet fishery that incidentally catch and kill these steelheads as they migrate upstream during October-November.
DFO and the Province are responsible for the decline in these steelhead populations. Ineffective measures to mitigate the gillnet by-catch of IFS steelhead have been in place for over a decade. BCWF President Bill Bosch states, “these measures have been a failure as evidenced by the continuing downward numbers of steelhead, so the time has come for the responsible parties to get serious about steelhead conservation, which is the mandate of both government levels.” Bosch points out that conservation groups have sent numerous letters and have had meetings with governments over the last number of years to express concerns. These concerns have been ignored, and most often, there has not even been a reply to such communications! A review of the chum salmon fishery by an outside government expert is required.
The BCWF call for a moratorium is one not taken lightly!
We have offered a positive solution to avoid the extinction of IFS while allowing the continuation of the harvest of chum salmon. The net fishery needs to be moved from the main stem river and replaced with chum salmon harvest in the lower Fraser tributary streams where most chum salmon spawn. “This would be a win-win solution that both levels of government have ignored,” states Bosch. Selective fishing methods on the main river have also been proposed to reduce IFS by-catch. These have also been rebuffed and turned down by both government levels that seem intent on the status quo, outdated fishing methods. Despite pleas from the Steelhead Society of BC, the BC Federation of Fly Fishers, the Outdoor Recreation Council, the BCWF and other conservation groups, DFO has continued to permit the chum salmon fishery knowing that the few remaining iconic steelheads are killed in the gill nets each year. It is time for governments and the involved commercial fishers to step up to the plate and show the much-needed leadership in IFS conservation and do the right thing for the fish.
The public needs to understand the dire situation the IFS is in, and there needs to be the political will to make the necessary changes to the fishery. The public is encouraged to write or call their MPs and MLAs and express their disbelief that steelhead conservation is not a concern or priority for the Federal and Provincial governments.
How can you take action?
Use the BCWF template letter below and email Premier John Horgan, Honourable Bernadette Jordan – Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and your MLA.
Letters are more powerful if you customize them. You can edit the letter below and customize it to your own experience.
We encourage our members to not just submit this electronic form, but to also print it out and mail it to your representatives.
Let Your Voice be Heard!