The protest sign on the Fraser River guide boat said it all: “Closing rivers is not a recovery plan.”
With record-low salmon returns looming this summer, some public fishery advocates are sounding the alarm that blanket closures on the Fraser River will once again be the tool of choice from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
Advocates for the “public fishery” as sport fishing leadership now wants it called, met with Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP Bob Zimmer, and Abbotsford MP Ed Fast Wednesday (April 28), for a gravel-bar summit near Chilliwack to discuss Fraser River fishing issues.
Conservative MPs, Bob Zimmer, is co-chair of the Parliamentary Outdoor Caucus, and Ed Fast, answered the call from the Public Fisheries Alliance to send a video message to federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, asking the government to look for innovations and alternatives to closures and restrictions in the name of conservation.
The 2020 Fraser salmon returns were the worst on record with most populations now endangered, and 2021 is expected to be similar.
“Seems like the only tool DFO has to use are closures when talking about threatened species of salmon,” MP Zimmer said in the video with the Fraser River in the background. “But what you might not see on camera is there is a lot of fish out there as part of the marked selective fishery.”
On the river for the discussion were Dean Werk from the Fraser Valley Salmon Society, and Fred Helmer from the Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance, launching the latest salvo in their quest for “selective” fishing opportunities.
They also want “mass marking” of hatchery fish to go from 10 per cent to 100 per cent, to create retention opportunities without impacting stocks of concern.
“I don’t think closing any fishery is good for any user group,” said Werk, who also owns Great River Fishing Adventures. “Looking for solutions and working together gives us the opportunities.”
They are appealing for urgently needed research and development of new regulations for selective fishing, such as bar rig fishing, as well as fly fishing and spey casting, and to help them do the selective fishing research to prove its merit.
For the video shoot background they set up a bar rig on the gravel bar for visuals, without actual hooks, to show the potential for using “selective” fishing gear, such as a shorter leader, which is meant to avoid bottom-bouncing and catching stocks of concern.
Mass marking of hatchery fish, meaning clipping all their adipose fins, would help B.C. harmonize its fishing rules with the states of Washington and Oregon, as well.
“Sport fishing groups have been sounding this alarm since 2008 and have been pushing for selective fishing regulations and are willing to invest both time and money to work with the province and DFO to get the science that supports the regulation,” said Zimmer.
The sport-fishing industry is estimated to inject $1.2 billion dollars a year into the B.C. economy, and sustain more than 9,000 jobs.
“Conservatives are supporting the development of the regulation by a private member’s bill and urging the Minister and DFO to support this initiative with funding and the permits to do the science.”
The research should also start as soon as possible this summer, they argue, so that the scientific basis of the selective sport-fishing regulation can be firmly established. Local sport fishing groups have already taken the initiative to organize volunteer support and seed funding, and are just awaiting federal contributions to the grass roots efforts.
Sweeping river closures were protective measures from the feds.
Acting on record-low returns in 2019, the government’s 2020 Fraser River Chinook salmon management measures, released last June, expanded on sweeping closures and restrictions. DFO argued the restrictions were necessary to protect 12 of 13 wild Fraser River Chinook runs assessed to be at-risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Historic low returns to the Skeena River triggered its own set of restrictions and closures.
“What’s important is that when you have people that care about the resource and benefit from that resource: First Nations, public fishers, commercial and First Nations, it’s all about building trust and respect and understanding,” said Fred Helmer of the Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance, and owner of Fred’s Custom Tackle.
He’s fed up of the divide-and-conquer approach all parties have been subjected for 40 years around fish issues.
“It’s so counterproductive to what needs to happen,” Helmer said, adding that instead the various stakeholders “who care need to be engaged, cooperative and respectful, and to search for better answers for the future.”
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