More restrictions for Fraser River chinook fishers

Amid curtailments DFO finds recreational pilot fisheries

The federal government has placed further restrictions on B.C.’s commercial and recreational salmon fisheries to help conserve threatened Fraser River chinook stocks.

DFO released its 2020 management measures Friday (June 19), which include the delaying of troll fisheries into August to avoid Fraser chinook, and an extended closure on recreational in-river fishing for all salmon species until Aug. 23.

These and several other measures build upon restrictions put in place last year.

READ MORE: Fisheries Department announces chinook fishing restrictions in B.C. (2019)

All but one of 13 Fraser River chinook populations assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada are currently at risk.

New restrictions this year include maximum size limits of 80 cm in southern marine recreation fisheries to help mitigate risks to larger females, and an expanded fishing closure off the mouth of the Fraser River.

Additional closures have been added in the Strait of Georgia and Juan de Fuca Strait for protection of the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

The 2020 measures were developed through consultation with Indigenous communities, recreational and commercial fishing organizations, and environmental organizations. Amid closures however, DFO also accepted recommendations from B.C.’s Sport Fishing Advisory Board to open recreational pilot fisheries away from migratory routes to help balance conservation and industry needs.

“We’ve been trying to respect conservation and the cautionary principle without imposing unnecessary restrictions, because we know about the social and economic implications these decisions have,” said Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the fisheries minister.

He added the restrictions on harvesters are complimented by many steps taken by the federal government, including $107 million in funding last year to implement provisions of a new Fisheries Act aimed at restoring and protecting fish and their habitat. The government also created $142-million BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund in partnership with the province to help finance ground-level projects in the public sector.

READ MORE: NW salmon conservation projects picked for funding grant

“In the long term our government has to remain committed to rebuilding the stock, and that’s going to mean long term investments in salmon and habitat restoration,” Beech said.

“In the short term, when we’re talking about historic lows in stocks, it’s a time we have to take decisive action because we don’t get a second shot at this.”

Chinook Salmon productivity has dropped from 25-40 per cent since the early 1980s.

DFO considers habitat destruction and harvesting as key contributors to the decline in chinook across the North American west coast, but environmental factors like warmer ocean temperatures brought on by climate change have escalated the crisis. This includes record droughts and floods impacting habitat, river temperatures exceeding the upper thermal limits for salmon, and ocean temperatures 3-5 C above average off B.C.’s northwest coast, profoundly disrupting salmon food webs.

Deforestation and back-to-back years of record forest fires have also increased sedimentation and landslides in the province, further harming freshwater salmon habitat, DFO stated. The massive landslide at Big Bar last year added to the crises, causing severe losses of 89 per cent and 50 per cent of two spawning chinook populations.

Work on clearing the debris continues but DFO is optimistic the salmon will fare better this year with a fish ladder already in place, and a fish pump to be installed in about one week.

Highlights of the 2020 Fraser River Chinook salmon management measures

  • Closure of Chinook retention in the Area F Northern Troll fishery until August 15, 2020 and the Area G West Coast of Vancouver Island Troll fishery until August 1st.
  • Recreational fisheries in Southern BC will not be permitted to retain Chinook until July 15th in most areas and August 1st in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Southern Strait of Georgia given the higher prevalence of endangered Fraser Chinook. Areas of the Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia will also be closed during this period, extending to a larger area off the mouth of the Fraser River to further reduce moralities on stocks of concern.
  • Until July 14, recreational fisheries in several small subareas that are away from the main migratory corridors will be permitted to retain Chinook —these openings will be considered on a pilot basis subject to size limits, MSF regulations and consultation with First Nations.
  • Recreational fisheries in the Fraser River will be closed to fishing for salmon until August 23rd.
  • Recreational fishing for other species continues to be permitted (see our website for details).
  • First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries that have constitutionally protected priority, will be limited to harvesting only very small numbers of Chinook for unplanned community events/First fish ceremonies until late July to support conservation.
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