Fraser River salmon returns for 2017 have been very low.
Following conservation in terms of DFO priorities is providing Indigenous communities with food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fishery openings, which have been few so far this year.
The river is closed to recreational fishing right now.
“It is challenging,” acknowledged Jennifer Nener, DFO Pacific Region’s director of salmon management, on a conference call media update Friday.
Complaints about the lack of recreational openings for chinook salmon have been received by DFO in the wake of its cautious management adopted for conservation reasons.
“The Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance has grave concerns that the Fraser River recreational salmon fishery which is part of our Canadian heritage will be lost to future generations,” writes Sportfishing Alliance co-chair Rod Clapton. “We recognize and support conservation as a priority and we respect the constitutional priorities of First Nations.”
Since the fish heading up-river to spawn are significantly below forecast levels, it means limited fishing opportunities for everyone.
But some are questioning the management decisions by the Fisheries & Oceans Canada, which has a mandate to rebuild stocks that are in decline in both “returns and opportunity,” Clapton said.
“The current allocation of openings suggest that conservation is not the priority and opportunity is not allowed in a fair and equitable manner.”
With the recent influx of pink salmon into the local rivers, there is an expectation on the part of the recreational sector that DFO will announce openings in the Fraser and tributaries.
“The FRSA has offered to work with DFO on developing and monitoring selective fisheries which can avoid stocks of concern,” said Sportfishing Alliance co-chair Fred Helmer. “To date these offers have not been ignored and rejected to our disappointment.”
An 18-hour opening was held for marine food fisheries for chum and chinook, which also allowed First Nations fishers to retain “mortally wounded or injured” sockeye that would otherwise wouldn’t make it, as a way to increase allocations.
“Some may see Indigenous people fishing and conclude there is no longer a conservation concern,” said Nener last week during the conference call. “But I would like to reiterate we have a conservation concern, and we have to minimize bycatch impacts.”
Overall the Fraser salmon returns are below the median estimated return of 4.4 million. They were challenged last year, too.
At this point the 2017 returns are expected to be about 1.5 million.
That’s only slightly above last year’s paltry return of 850,000 fish.
“It will certainly be an improvement over last year’s returns,” said Nener, but the numbers are still way down.
But there is no total allowable catch (TAC) for this year, and DFO reps are managing for conservation.
Exceptionally warm ocean conditions from 2014-16 have are thought to have had a big impact on 2017 stocks. Poor feeding conditions for the fish are from what’s become known as the “warm blob” in the ocean.
“One of the keys to protecting the future of salmon stocks is effective monitoring and enforcement to detect and deter illegal fishing activity by all user groups,” said Nener.
Alliance reps are on-board with that approach.
“The angling community wants to be part of the solution to improve fisheries for all and wants to see rules and regulations enforced so law breakers are made accountable and law-abiding citizens are not penalized,” said Helmer.
“There has been issues on non-compliance within all sectors in the past and we know this concern is shared by First Nations. We suggest that enforcement on the river is totally inadequate.”