Vancouver — Amid ongoing controversy over mismanagement of the commercial herring fishery, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is facing fresh criticism for proposing to increase the catch of endangered salmon. The Watershed Watch Salmon Society calls the proposals in the draft 2015 Integrated Fisheries Management Plan “unnecessary concessions to a small group of narrow commercial interests.”
“The Department is not honouring its own Wild Salmon Policy, which prioritizes the conservation of wild salmon, not fishing companies,” said Aaron Hill, Executive Director at Watershed Watch. “The commercial fleet is already allowed plenty of fishing opportunities, and these changes just go too far.”
Under the proposed changes for 2015, fishermen would increase their take of sockeye returning to the Skeena and Fraser Rivers, as well as endangered Interior Fraser River coho. The Fraser and Skeena sockeye runs include several endangered stocks that swim alongside identical-looking fish from larger, healthier runs. The endangered coho are caught incidentally in fisheries targeting other species like sockeye, pink, and chinook salmon.
The proposals to increase salmon catches come as a large and unprecedented warming event unfolds in the North Pacific Ocean, causing mass die-offs of marine animals. Moreover, several parts of B.C. are facing record low snow-packs. It all adds up to create serious challenges for wild salmon. “It’s one thing to fish hard when environmental conditions are favourable for the fish,” said Hill, “but looking at these conditions is like looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. This is not the time to be increasing the level of risk for our salmon.”
Conservation groups, recreational anglers, and several First Nations trying to rebuild at-risk salmon stocks in their territories have voiced opposition to the proposals. For years many of these groups have been urging the Department to increase fishing opportunities in areas where large, healthy salmon runs can be targeted without impacting endangered runs.
“We could sustainably harvest more salmon from the runs that come back strong by using the right gear in the right places,” said Greg Taylor, a fisheries consultant and former fishing company executive, “but DFO is proposing to allow more fishing using the wrong gear in the wrong places. The result will be more pressure on endangered runs and another year of lost opportunities to create a truly sustainable salmon fishing industry here in B.C.”
“We’re inviting British Columbians to join with us by voicing their own comments and support for wild salmon,” concluded Hill.
The deadline for public comments is April 13.