Fraser River chinook fishery closed through most of the summer

Commercial and recreational fisheries for Fraser River chinook will be closed for much of the summer, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced Tuesday.

First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries for chinook salmon will be closed until July 15, while recreational anglers will face tight restrictions on chinook in waters on the south coast through the entire season.

The annual limit for chinook retention by recreational anglers will also be reduced from 30 fish per person to just 10.

DFO will provide some fishing opportunities later in the summer, said Rebecca Reid, regional director general, Pacific region.

“Conservation remains paramount, but we do need to provide opportunities for First Nations food, social, ceremonial where stocks permit,” she said. “Once we are confident that the majority of endangered stocks have passed, we are providing some recreational opportunities.”

Tighter fishery restrictions are intended to reduce chinook mortality to between five and seven per cent this season. Last year’s target was a little over 12 per cent.

“These restrictions are focused on endangered Fraser River chinook and they have been in decline for a some substantial period of time and they are at this stage in a very critical state,” said Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson in an interview.

Wilkinson concedes that the fishing industry will be affected by the closures, but says they are necessary due to the continued decline of B.C.’s chinook stocks.

Seven southern B.C. chinook stocks are considered endangered, four threatened, one is of special concern and one is not at risk, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

A juvenile spring chinook salmon jumps in the Rogue River in Oregon.

A juvenile spring chinook salmon.

“I’ve been clear that I will not be the minister responsible for putting the chinook on a path to extinction and this is part of a plan to ensure that we are helping to stem the decline and working towards recovery of the species,” said Wilkinson.

The commercial troll fishery will be closed until August 20 to avoid taking chinook migrating to the Fraser River.

Recreational anglers will not be allowed to retain chinook until July 14 and from July 15 on only one fish per person per day will be allowed up to the annual limit in the northern Strait of Georgia, the West Coast of Vancouver Island and Johnstone Strait.

Non-retention will be in effect until July 31 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and southern Strait of Georgia.

Fraser River recreational fisheries will be closed until at least August 23, while the Kamloops Lake demonstration fishery has been cancelled for 2019.

Chinook fisheries in northern B.C waters will also face a “substantial delay,” said DFO regional resource director Jeff Grout.

Commercial troll fisheries for chinook in Haida Gwaii will be closed until August 20.

Chinook salmon stocks are facing serious challenges related to climate change and fresh water habitat as well as the effects of a series of bad fire seasons, said Reid.

The provincial and federal government announced a five-year $143-million salmon habitat and stock recovery program last month.

DFO is also planning to conduct a survey of harbour seals in the Strait of Georgia and is collaborating with the University of B.C. on a study of the impact of seals and sea lions on chinook abundance.

A group of First Nation fishers and hunter has approached DFO with a plan to start a commercial seal and sea lion hunt to supply meat to restaurants in Canada and Asia, fat for supplements and possibly as pet food.

Recent studies have linked high seal population density to troubled chinook runs and the decline of southern resident killer whales that feed on chinook in the summer.

A British Columbia group wants to revive the seal and sea lion hunt on the west coast, provoking a debate about the controversial practice and prompting scientists to warn of consequences for the ecosystem.

There are 105,000 harbour seals in B.C. coastal waters, roughly 10 times the number recorded in the early 1970s, according to DFO estimates.

The Pacific Balance Pinniped Society does not support a large-scale cull of pinnipeds; rather they seek to bring the population back into historical balance by returning to their hunting tradition.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences estimates that seals and sea lions in Puget Sound consume about nine times the amount of chinook salmon they ate before 1970, and that the rise of harbour seals “coincides directly” with the decline of chinook salmon.

A large conference is being planned for this fall with the Pacific Salmon Foundation on the question of seal and sea lion predation on salmon, said Wilkinson.

–more to come–

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