The federal response to a citizens’ petition calling for more salmon-angling opportunities in B.C. represents another failure of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to show clear support for the recreational fishery, proponents say.
The Parliamentary petition, tabled Dec. 4 with 2,654 signatures, was initiated by retired Surrey resident and angler Bill Braidwood over sweeping recreational closures of Fraser River chinook last year.
Fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan delivered her response in the House of Commons Jan. 25.
“It’s the same-ole same-ole that we’ve all heard before,” Braidwood said. “The areas [of the response] that I’ve got real problems with is DFO says they’re going to make science-based decisions, but recreational anglers have been giving them DNA samples and coded wire tag information for years, particularly through the Avid Angler Program. We have shown the areas where we can safely fish both wild and hatchery fish. But at a minimum, with hatchery fish only, the intercept rate on wild runs is less than half of one per cent. It’s negligible.”
Acting on record-low returns in 2019, the government’s 2020 Fraser River Chinook salmon management measures expanded on sweeping closures and restrictions to protect 12 Fraser River chinook runs assessed to be at-risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
The petition called for an amendment to the 2020 management measures that acknowledge the existence of abundant chinook runs, augmented by marked hatchery fish, that could be caught safely away from endangered populations.
Signatories also called for the immediate development and implementation of a comprehensive recovery strategy for Fraser River stocks of concern.
In her response Jordan didn’t address a specific recovery strategy, but outlined a number of recent policy changes and government programs to help conserve and restore wild salmon populations.
She reminded anglers that new management measures in 2019 and 2020 were designed to allow for recreational fisheries in times and areas where stocks of concern can be avoided.
DFO is also considering a pilot recreation fishery on hatchery origin chinook, similar in structure to the petition request, which were tested in pilot projects last year. DFO is now conducting a post-season review to potentially include more marked-selective fishing opportunities in the spring. Jordan cautioned, however, such a move won’t be easily approved.
“Though mark selective fisheries are meant to allow harvest of relatively [abundant] hatchery fish, all selective fisheries have an associated mortality on unmarked (wild) fish and in cases where a mark selective fishery is not properly designed, implemented and monitored, this mortality can exceed that of a non-selective fishery,” Jordan said.
DFO has launched a pilot project to mass-mark Conuma Hatchery chinook on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, in conjunction with gene-based research to determine the impacts on wild stocks.
But Braidwood downplayed the pilot project as an example of government lip service to the recreational sector, as the location is out of reach for most B.C. anglers, and disconnected from concerns of Fraser River runs specified in the petition.
“The only glimmer of hope I got from this response is they’re starting to address mass-marking, because they realize we’ve got them up against the wall on this,” Braidwood said. “There have been thousands of emails and letters sent to DFO by anglers and a lot of push back by mayors in small coastal communities that rely on sport fishing … it’s a $1.4 billion industry.”
North Okanagan-Shuswap Conservative MP Mel Arnold, who sponsored the petition, accused the Liberal government of ignoring viable conservation plans and will continue to press Jordan for a decsion on increased marked selective fishery before April 1, the beginning of the tidal licence year.
“While it is good to see a small signal from the government suggesting they are assessing some proposals, many operators and businesses in coastal communities cannot survive another season of Ottawa’s restrictions,” Arnold said.
Read Braidwood’s petition and minister Jordan’s response here.