A gillnetter crew hauls in their catch of sockeye on the lower Fraser River during the summer of 2014.

Sockeye overfishing risks salmon future: critics

Group says too few Fraser River sockeye spawned last year as conservation took back seat to catch

Conservationists say federal fishery managers allowed serious overfishing of Fraser River sockeye salmon last summer and too few fish spawned as a result.

And they say a continued policy of allowing overly aggressive commercial fishing threatens to wallop vulnerable salmon runs again this summer.

Last year saw a large run of 20 million sockeye but Watershed Watch Salmon Society executive director Aaron Hill said the number that actually spawned ended up 1.4 million below the target of 7.3 million set by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The spawning shortfall would have been nearly three million or 41 per cent below the target had fishermen taken all the sockeye they’d been allocated.

“Big catches were obviously the big priority for our federal government, not prudent management,” Hill said.

The endangered Cultus Lake sockeye and Interior coho runs were among the stocks that fell dangerously short of their spawning targets last year, he said, raising doubts about the strength of future generations.

Salmon from weak runs return intermingled with the strong stocks and can get hammered as an unintended bycatch unless fishing is carefully restrained to ensure conservation.

Last year DFO riled First Nations and conservationists when it quadrupled the maximum catch by Canadian fishermen of the coho run – from four per cent in previous years to 16 per cent – effectively sacrificing more threatened coho so abundant sockeye could be caught.

This year’s fishing plan would maintain the same higher limits set last year.

Hill said that’s a bad idea, since this year’s sockeye run is projected to be lower at around seven million and environmental conditions appear troubling.

“They can’t even get it right in years of good abundance,” Hill said. “This year we’re looking at a massive unprecedented warming event in the north Pacific, record low snowpacks and concerns about marine productivity in general. It’s too risky.”

A large pink salmon run is also expected this year and there’s growing evidence that competititon from pinks for food at sea is hurting sockeye survival.

Hill accused fishery managers of putting industry first, in contravention of government policy that conservation of wild salmon is the top priority ahead of all user groups.

Stu Cartwright, DFO’s acting area director for the B.C. Interior, defended DFO’s plans, adding they are carefully designed to manage stocks in a way that supports conservation and sustainability while maximizing fishing opportunities for First Nations, commercial and recreational fisheries.

Bob McKamey, vice-president of the Area E Gillnetters Association, dismissed the objections from Watershed Watch.

“It wouldn’t matter what the fishing plan is, they have a kneejerk reaction to the commercial fishing industry in general,” he said.

McKamey said last year’s fishery was well managed and there was “ample evidence” to support the reduced protection for weak stocks.

In previous years, he said, too many sockeye were allowed to spawn, creating excessive competition among juveniles.

“There was no end of evidence to indicate that exploitation rates were too low and that overspawning was the problem in a lot of areas.”

Just Posted

PHOTOS: cedar swag workshop a hit at Wells Winter Kick Off

Wells locals and visitors created some festive decor at the weekend event

City of Quesnel hosts public hearing on potential recreational cannabis store

The meeting takes place tonight in City Council chambers

Quesnel could see more snow Friday

Warmer weather will remain until end of the week, according to Environment Canada

TNG receives rural dividend funding

The Tsilhqot’in National Government will be able to achieve certification through the lSO

Police aim to prevent retaliation after Hells Angel found dead under B.C. bridge

IHIT confirms Chad Wilson, 43, was the victim of a ‘targeted’ homicide

731,000 Canadians going into debt to buy prescription drugs: UBC

Millennials and those without private coverage were more likely to borrow money

Pot users, investors need to be vigilant at Canada-U.S. border

U.S. authorities say anyone who admits to having used pot before it became legal could be barred

Shirtless stranger loomed over couch and started stabbing, bloody B.C. murder trial hears

Colin John pleads not guilty as trial opens in 2016 Chemainus murder case

Late 2019 too long to wait for ridesharing: B.C. Conservatives

“While the rest of the world is embracing this transportation revolution, B.C. is only now staggering slowly toward legislation on a business model that’s been mainstreamed for over a decade in other jurisdictions.”

ICBC warns shoppers of the high-accident season at mall parking lots

Over 150,000 accidents happened during the holiday season last year

No deal in sight: Canada Post warns of delivery delays into January

Union holds fifth week of rotating strikes as both sides remain apart on contract negotiations

COLUMN: Higher interest rates will slow B.C. economy after ‘unusually robust’ show

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

Jason Aldean, Old Dominion to headline Merritt’s Rockin’ River concerts next summer

Four-day music festival at Coldwater River from Aug. 1 to 4

Most Read