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

Relationships, continuity top health-care concerns for Agassiz residents

Feedback during Fraser Health events showed access to health care needs to improve

Development on the horizon for Harrison Hot Springs Marina

The property has been the subject of a number development proposals over the years

Chilliwack Players Guild brings first ever radio play to stage

An Affair of Honour is based on a true story, written by the father of a Chilliwack man

‘Big hearts and even bigger feet’: Comedian sends Harrison humour to the silver screen

Jonny Harris will see the town highlighted on his small-town comedy series ‘Still Standing’

More staff being hired at Fraser Valley seniors homes

Number of care hours for residents lags behind provincial targets

VIDEO: Car flies across median, flips over edge of Brunette overpass

Dash cam footage shows a vehicle speeding across a Lower Mainland overpass

Lower Mainland teacher resigned after ‘inappropriate discussions’ with elementary students

Tracy Joseph Fairley resigned from Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows district April 23, 2018

Surrey needs 350 more cops, activist tells council

‘Right now we are 350 police behind what our population requires,’ politicians are told

Indigenous energy summit includes session on pipeline ownership options

Steven Saddleback of the Indian Resource Council says a session will feature presentations on financing models

Japanese grand champion Kisenosato retires from sumo

The 32-year-old Kisenosato was the first Japanese-born wrestler in 19 years to gain promotion to sumo’s highest rank

UPDATE: Accused B.C. high school killer found fit to stand trial

Gabriel Klein is accused in the 2016 stabbing death of Letisha Reimer at Abbotsford Senior Secondary

Right-wing, neo-Nazi, white supremacist groups an increasing concern: Goodale

Ten people died in April 2018 when Alek Minassian allegedly drove a rental van down the busy stretch in Toronto

Where mattresses go to die

Mattress Recycling opens the largest of its kind mattress-recycling facility in Hope

Canadian stock exchanges to conduct lottery for ‘POT’ ticker amid high demand

The symbol became available after fertilizer Potash Corp. officially merged with Agrium Inc. in early 2018

Most Read