The B.C. Wildlife Federation put out a call for “fundamental change” in the management of salmon fisheries on Wednesday.
The Federation has called for both provincial and federal governments to put together a five-year action plan for the Lower Fraser River fisheries to help transition away from net harvesting to more selective fishing methods historically used by Indigenous Peoples.
“Endangered Interior Fraser steelhead, sturgeon, weaker Chinook and coho stocks are indiscriminately caught every year by net fishers targeting sockeye and chum salmon and, in 2019, pink salmon,” the Federation said, adding that the downward trend in the numbers of these stocks has led to attempts to list them as at-risk species.
The main causes of declining salmon numbers are climate change, over-fishing and habitat loss. The Federation says only the second of those causes can be regulated to improve spawn numbers in the short term.
“At the rate salmon are dwindling, it may be time to remove all nets from the lower Fraser,” said Bill Bosch, president of the Wildlife Federation.
When salmon are fished with nets in the ocean indiscriminately it’s difficult to know which stocks will be affected, or how much a given salmon stock will be depleted.
Smaller salmon stocks – like the roughly 70,000 that swim up the Shuswap River to the Kingfisher Interpretive Centre – are naturally more vulnerable to non-selective fishing in the ocean.
“If there is indiscriminate netting of fish – in other words they don’t know where that stock came from – they could be virtually wiped out,” said Fulton, who helps run the annual egg take at the Kingfisher Centre and has been a salmonid educator since 1982.
For the past month an assessment crew from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been at the Kingfisher Centre tagging Chinooks to determine how many made it up the river this year.
“There’s a lot of sense of endangered stocks around, and if you want to harvest you need to try to harvest ones that are doing well and maybe even have a surplus and try to leave the endangered ones alone,” Fulton said.
The Wildlife Federation is advocating for more selective fisheries at the mouths of rivers – an idea Fulton supports, but says will be challenging to implement due to the possible social upheaval of fishing communities.
“Many coastal communities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are founded on ocean fishing,” he explained.
“People could be given jobs at the river mouths and it would be smarter than burning all that fuel chasing fish around the ocean, but we are talking about deep roots and traditions. It is not easy to just legislate things like this.”
The Kingfisher Centre is offering the chance to learn more about salmon conservation at an Oct. 25 event that has now been made open to all members of the public. The Salmon Forever conference includes seminars and learning stations run by experts from around the Okanagan.
To register for the Salmon Forever conference, visit the event’s page on Eventbrite.