DFO announces new measures to conserve Fraser River Chinook stocks

Denise Titian, April 17, 2019

Citing the need to protect endangered Fraser River Chinook salmon stocks for future generations, this week Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced new restrictions, including catching for First Nations' food, social and ceremonial purposes that will not begin until July 15. (File photo)

Coastal British Columbia — 

The federal government is introducing strict restrictions on Chinook salmon fishing this year, out of concern that the species from the Fraser River system is at risk of extinction.

In a statement released Apr. 16, DFO said, “Recent assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada for Chinook salmon from the Fraser River system have found Chinook are also in danger of disappearing from Canada.”

The government notes that the loss of these Chinook populations would be disastrous and that is why the Government of Canada is taking “urgent and concrete actions” to ensure that at-risk Chinook salmon are protected for future generations.

The 2019 Fisheries Management Plan aims to conserve Fraser River Chinook salmon by delaying fisheries openings and reducing catch limits.

First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries, which have a constitutionally-protected priority, will not commence until July 15, 2019 – concurrent with the opening of the recreational retention fishery.

The commercial troll fisheries for Chinook will be closed until Aug. 1 on the west coast of Vancouver Island and until Aug. 20th in northern B.C. In previous years the commercial fishery opened in June.

The announcement for recreational fisheries openings is more complex because it is based on where along the B.C. coast Fraser River Chinook may be encountered. This year’s catch retention has been reduced from 30 Chinook, annually, to 10 per person.

DFO’s 2019 allocations for recreational fishers includes:

  • Non-retention of Chinook in Johnstone Strait and northern Strait of Georgia until July 14; a daily limit of one Chinook per person per day from July 15 until August 29, and two per person per day from Aug. 30th until December 31.
  • Non-retention of Chinook in the Strait Juan de Fuca and Southern Strait of Georgia until July 31; retention of one Chinook per person per day as of August 1 until August 29th, and two per person per day from Aug 30th until December 31.
  • West coast Vancouver Island offshore areas will have non-retention of Chinook until July 14 followed by a limit of two Chinook per day from July 15 to December 31. West coast Vancouver Island inshore waters, which include the Alberni Inlet and Somass River, will remain at two Chinook per day for the season to support the long-term viability of the salmon and of the recreational fishery.
  • Fraser River recreational fisheries will remain closed to salmon fishing until at least August 23, and opportunities will be informed by any other conservation issues (coho, steelhead, etc).
  • Retention of two Chinook per day continues to be permitted in northern B.C. and inshore areas of the west coast of Vancouver Island. Other opportunities may be identified and announced in season where abundance permits.
  • Recreational fisheries for other species will continue.

DFO states that these measures were developed following consultation with Indigenous communities, recreational and commercial fishing organizations and environmental organizations.

The new restrictions are leading some people to believe that fishermen will flock to the Alberni Inlet where, according to the DFO Fraser River Chinook Management Measures Chart, the recreational Chinook fishery near shore will be less restricted.

According to the DFO chart, the 2019 WCVI offshore recreational fishery for Chinook will be conducted as a non-retention fishery from Apr. 1 to July 14.

Beginning July 15 to Dec. 31, 2019, sports fishers in nearshore areas of WCVI will see a catch limit of two fish per day per person with an overall season catch limit of 10 Chinook per person. The new limit is down from 30 fish.

NTC Fisheries Manager Eric Angel says he is reaching out to DFO to get an update on all the WCVI restrictions. He is especially interested in what they have planned for the FSC (Food, Social, and Ceremonial) fishery.

According to Lara Sloan of DFO, salmon management plans for the south coast are still in the consultation phase.

“We expect the final plans to be signed off in late May,” Sloan told Ha-Shilth-Sa.

The most recent fishery notices for Fraser River bound Chinook fisheries and restrictions can be found at https://notices.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fns-sap/index-eng.cfm

In order to make sure everyone is following the new rules, DFO will employ 140 conservation officers that will patrol the Fraser River by land, water and air.

“These new measures are difficult, but they are necessary to address Fraser River Chinook decline,” says DFO in their announcement.

A continued decline would irrevocably harm species that depend on the survival of Chinook salmon, such as the Southern Resident killer whale; in addition, it would permanently affect the culture, heritage and livelihoods of Indigenous communities and permanently eliminate many jobs in the recreational and commercial fishing industries, they added.