Photo: Jessica VanIerland

The last of the Interior Fraser Steelhead further imperiled by DFO inaction

Ashcroft, B.C. — Today the few remaining Interior Fraser steelhead trout are stuck at the base of the Bonaparte River fishway, which is a major tributary of the Thompson River. The steelhead can’t get to their spawning grounds because the Bonaparte fishway is inoperable due to heavy sedimentation and debris from recent summer’s fires. The stranded steelhead have been recommended for a listing under the Species at Risk Act after an emergency assessment in early 2018 confirmed the species are at imminent risk of extinction.

Harvey Andrusak, President of the BC Wildlife Federation, is furious that Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has known that this crucial fishway was impassable for months and have not resolved the problem in time for the return of the vulnerable Interior Fraser steelhead. Andrusak said the Shuswap Nation alerted DFO and conservation groups months ago that Chinook salmon were stuck at the Bonaparte fishway and not able to reach their spawning grounds.

DFO observed only a few Chinook salmon ascending the fishway successfully. The BCWF wants to know why DFO did not inform the province of this problem and bring the province into the conversation and problem resolution. Andrusak said, “it is inexplicable that the Thompson River steelhead remain at risk with evidently little communication between the agencies.”

Evidently, the province only became aware of the problem two weeks ago and is now contemplating capture of steelhead to move them by truck around the fishway.  Andrusak supports trucking the steelhead to where they can swim freely to their spawning grounds but remains concerned about who is in charge of these fish and why DFO didn’t include the province in resolving the problem of fish passage, “If this is an example of cooperation between DFO and the province then salmon, and especially steelhead, are in even more trouble,” he said, “The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.”

The BCWF and other conservation groups have been calling on DFO to stop its outdated practice of allowing net fisheries on the Lower Fraser River to kill and entangle at-risk steelhead when caught as bycatch during commercial fisheries. The BCWF hosted a Selective Fishing Forum in March to share the science and research about alternative methods of fishing that would not further harm at-risk marine fish.

Meanwhile, both Premier Horgan and DFO Minister Wilkinson have announced $142 million for the restoration of salmon and salmon habitat. Andrusak said, “despite all the announcements from provincial and Federal leaders about saving salmon and the huge investment they are making in salmon habitat, the same old duck and weave tactics of DFO are still very much at play.”

The BCWF expects leaders to at least agree that funds should be made available immediately to solve the fishway problem so that Chinook and Interior Fraser steelhead can move through their next spawning season.

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