British Columbia

'This is all optical': Sport fishers slam DFO's chinook closures

Recreational fishers are criticizing Fisheries and Oceans Canada for its sweeping restrictions on chinook salmon fishing, claiming that less than one per cent of the chinook caught last year by sport anglers throughout the region belonged to at-risk stocks.

Less than 1% of chinook caught in 2018 came from vulnerable stocks, anglers say

Protesters say the chinook fishery closure is an 'optical and political' move that unfairly targets recreational anglers. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Recreational fishers are criticizing Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) for its sweeping restrictions on chinook salmon fishing, claiming that less than one per cent of the chinook caught last year by sport anglers throughout the region belonged to at-risk stocks.

More than 100 protesters surrounded federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson's constituency office in North Vancouver on Wednesday calling the recent closures a political move that will have little impact on the overall health of chinook populations.

"The minister has made a politically motivated decision to choose the recreational fishery as a scapegoat," said David Brown, a recreational fisherman who was among those who organized the protest.

The DFO announced it was restricting chinook salmon fishing this season citing dwindling stocks due to harvesting, habitat destruction, and climate change.

According to the DFO, of the 13 wild Fraser River chinook salmon populations recently assessed in the region, only one was not at risk.

Crews gathered outside federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson's constituency office to rally against chinook restrictions, while many drivers passing by honked their horns in support. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

New restrictions have closed the bulk of the fisheries along the Fraser River and South Coast until mid-to-late summer for recreational anglers. Daily catch limits have also been reduced.

However, anglers say these conditions will do little to protect the chinook populations they were intended for, and harm communities that rely on the sport fishing industry. The $1.1 billion industry supports over 9,000 jobs.

According to organizers, the DFO's own DNA sampling of chinook salmon caught last year shows that recreational fishermen reeled in less than one per cent of vulnerable chinook stocks.

"Sport fishermen are the first ones that want to protect stocks of concern because we want to see them in future years," said Jason Assonities, a local fishing guide.

"We have the data that says we're not really catching them in this fishery, so why are we getting closed down when we're not catching these stocks of concern?" Assonities added.

"For us, it's pretty clear this is all optical, and it's all political."

An underwater camera at the Whitehorse fish ladder and hatchery captures chinook salmon travelling by. (Yukon Energy)

The group is urging the federal government to ease restrictions to allow them to fish for hatchery-bred chinook along B.C.'s South Coast.

DFO responds

Wilkinson was not in his constituency office, but in an e-mailed statement to CBC News, he said he understood the recreational fishing community's concerns.

"These new fisheries management measures are only one way that we are working to restore wild chinook salmon," he said, referring to more than $200 million that have been earmarked for habitat restoration and stock assessment under the Trudeau government.

Cowichan Valley snow-pack is not large enough to provide the water that fish need to survive. Officials say a crisis for salmon is under a month away. (Paul Vecsei/Engbretson Underwater Photography)

The DFO says the efforts are critical to restoring chinook populations, which also are the preferred diet for at-risk southern resident killer whales.

A sweeping closure was among the recommendations made by the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat (FRAFS) — a group that acts as an intermediary between the DFO and Fraser River First Nations.

According to the group's most recent letter directed at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, chinook stocks are unlikely to rebound any time soon and all fisheries must be "managed in a closed-until-open regime."

"Only after conservation and First Nations requirements are met should DFO support a sustainable recreational fishery," wrote Ken Malloway, chairperson of the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat.

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