A Fraser River gillnetter's crew offloads sockeye salmon during the summer of 2010.

A Fraser River gillnetter's crew offloads sockeye salmon during the summer of 2010.

Endangered coho to take bigger hit as fishing fleet targets huge sockeye run

DFO quadruples allowable kill of weak salmon returning to Fraser River

Conservationists say a federally approved fishing plan sacrifices too many endangered coho salmon so fishing companies can catch more of an expected massive run of Fraser River sockeye this summer.

The predicted bonanza of sockeye – 23 million with a chance it could be more than 70 million – means there’s intense pressure for fishermen to capitalize on the huge run.

But if too many coho are caught in the nets along with sockeye, it could be a major setback for Interior coho runs that were nearly wiped out in the late 1990s and had been gradually rebuilding.

In past years, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has limited that unintentional bycatch to three per cent of the incoming coho run – once that many coho were caught sockeye fisheries were usually halted to protect weaker runs.

But DFO’s newly released plan more than quadruples that limit to a maximum 16 per cent of the coho run that can be killed this year by Canadian fishermen, not counting any bycatch by Americans.

“It should be called an overfishing plan,” said Watershed Watch Salmon Society biologist Aaron Hill, who accuses fishery managers of neglecting their duty to protect weak stocks.

“The main reason this is happening is because of heavy lobbying from the fishing interests who want to be able to catch more sockeye.”

A DFO letter to stakeholders says the changes will only be in effect for the 2014 season and was informed by an internal scientific review.

But Hill contends there is no scientific consensus on the safety of the coho protection measures.

Gord Sterritt, executive director of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, which represents 23 First Nations from Williams Lake to the Fraser’s headwaters, said aboriginal stakeholders were prepared to accept some increase in allowed coho bycatch in recognition that this is “a unique year” but said DFO’s decision goes too far.

“Basically they are opening the season on endangered species,” Sterritt said. “We’ve been in conservation mode trying to protect these stocks since 1998. We’ve seen some recovery in the last three years. But it’s still iffy.”

Conservationists argue more sockeye could be taken without putting coho at risk through increased use of selective in-river fisheries, which First Nations have practised for centuries.

DFO spokesperson Michelle Imbeau said the higher permitted bycatch should still allow enough coho upriver to spawn to meet conservation recovery targets, based on an estimated run size of 50,000 coho.

Hill singled out the Jim Pattison Group’s Canadian Fishing Co. (Canfisco) as a main lobbyist for looser coho safeguards.

Canfisco vice-president Rob Morley said there’s broad support for the plan in the commercial and recreational fishing sectors.

“In our view, the scientific analysis the department has done themselves shows the harvest at these levels are sustainable and don’t cause any conservation issues,” he said.

Besides coho, some weak runs of sockeye that return to Cultus Lake, Pitt Lake, Bowron Lake and Taseko Lake could also be at greater risk in a summer of heavy fishing for the abundant sockeye runs.

The sockeye now migrating back to B.C. from the north Pacific are the spawn of the massive 2010 run when 30 million unexpectedly returned.

Last year’s return of four million sockeye was more typical of recent years, although the numbers have improved since just 1.6 million sockeye returned in 2009, triggering the Cohen Inquiry.

Just Posted

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Body of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

Abbotsford council has given permission for Chilliwack to use the JAMES wastewater treatment plant for the disposal of trucked liquid waste until the end of September.
Chilliwack gets exemption to Abbotsford bylaw prohibiting liquid waste from other cities

Process in place until September while new facility under construction in Chilliwack

There were a total of 182 deaths of trumpeter swans at Judson Lake over the past winter, according to the Save the Swans website. The lake has the heaviest lead concentration of any known lake, the website states. (PHOTO: savetheswans.ca)
Abbotsford man starts petition, saying lead shot is killing waterfowl in Judson Lake and beyond

Farmer Kevin Sinclair says local lake is ‘poster child’ for swans’ deaths from lead poisoning

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

A search is underway for a 75-year-old fisherman who went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search continues for angler missing between Port Angeles and Victoria

Canadian, U.S. Coast Guard searching for 75-year-old man reported missing Thursday evening

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read