Letter About Public Salmon Fishery Closures

The Honourable Bernadette Jordan
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans & the Canadian Coast Guard
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

RE: Fisheries Notice FN 0569

Dear Minister Jordan,

The 43,000 members of the British Columbia Wildlife Federation (BCWF) are appalled by Fisheries Notice FN 0569 issued on June 22, 2020. Our members who participate in your ministerial appointed Sport Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB) worked with Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Pacific Region staff to identify public fishing opportunities for chinook on the West Coast. In a complete reversal, Fisheries Notice FN 0569, outlines some of the most draconian fishing regulations in recorded history. It is clear the SFAB is being used as a checkbox for the Government of Canada to say it has consulted the public.

Broadly, the BCWF is concerned the public fishery has been marginalized, with science taking a back seat to political agendas. Fishing is considered an essential service amid this pandemic. Yet DFO seems to think public fisheries are unnecessary despite the well documented social and economic value the public fishery generates annually.

The BCWF’s understanding is that DFO’s mandate is to provide fisheries for Canadians after conservation and First Nations Food, Social and Ceremonial needs are met. Numerous salmon populations are in decline: Interior Fraser Coho stocks crashed in the 1990s, interior Fraser steelhead are endangered, and a number of Fraser River chinook have been more recently assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as endangered. The Government of Canada and DFO has no plan to restore or recover these populations, instead choosing to change the fishing regulations. This is a lazy tactic that has failed Canadians for decades, the only result being fewer fish coupled with more fishing restrictions.

Additionally, DFO is making a habit of ignoring its own scientists, and researchers, even going as far as editing peer-reviewed science documents in favour of political expedience to justify the status quo. An example of this was revealed in our Freedom of Information request, showing that consensus recommendations made by scientists were not reflected in the final public Scientific Advisory Report. https://bcwf.bc.ca/bcwf-foi-reveals-flawed-decision-making-process-for-endangered-steelhead/

Specifically related to the latest round of regulation changes, our concern is DFO has imposed chinook closures on public fishing under the guise of conservation. If extreme conservation concerns are truly the issue, then all fisheries, including commercial and First Nations FSC, should be curtailed.

Pictures of dead endangered steelhead and endangered chinook are being sent to us weekly. The BCWF understands that illegal nets are confiscated regularly throughout the Mid and Lower Fraser, killing thousands of fish every year. DFO rarely accounts for these fish, and it is rare to see individuals responsible for illegal nets charged for catching and killing endangered fish. This is a systemic issue, where thousands of fish go missing every year. Your enforcement staff have become experts in cutting gillnets from the Fraser river banks instead of enforcing Canada’s Laws, which are intended to protect salmon and salmon habitat. If conservation is the priority for these endangered fish, how is it those killing endangered fish, when there is no open fishery, are not charged? It is because DFO has chosen to regulate only those who following the rules, allowing criminals a free pass to continue to kill endangered fish.

There is no transparency, no accountability, and no trust while there are fewer and fewer salmon. DFO is a failed agency that no longer manages for the well-being of fish or the public interest. Instead, DFO is now focused exclusively on cutting back the public fishery to give the appearance it is doing something while managing for political benefit. This management approach is unravelling the social fabric of the public fishery, dividing users and communities and bankrupting service providers.

If the Government of Canada and DFO were truly about fish, DFO would have a recovery plan for these endangered salmon. DFO would have objectives for salmon runs, funding to properly monitor fisheries and fish populations, and would be pulling levers to restore fish. Scientists would be able to speak to the public, their findings would not be suppressed, all users would bear the brunt of restrictions, and people intentionally killing endangered fish on the Fraser would be charged. Your government has had five years to act, yet nothing significant has been done. Instead, the focus has been on divvying up a disappearing pie.

DFO has failed these fish and the people who care about them. The BCWF recommends that DFO is independently reviewed and rebuilt as an agency with a mandate that focuses on recovering salmon, managing salmon equitably for all fisheries, and ensuring scientists and researchers are unfettered by politicians and managers. We suggest your government leave the platitudes and press releases for real work that restores our dwindling salmon. The first step, which should have been done years ago, is to set objectives for salmon populations and start managing for them.

The BCWF requests you issue a statement that conservation is put first and that your staff follow that direction.

Please respond to our concerns at your earliest convenience.

Yours In Conservation,
Bill Bosch
BC Wildlife Federation

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