Frustration is mounting with Island politicians and recreational fishers after the federal government announced a massive fishery closure in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Two weeks ago, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced a recreation fishing closure in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Otter Point to East Point, near Port Renfrew, and portions around the Gulf Islands.
The federal government is cutting back coast-wide on allowed catches of prized chinook salmon as it attempts to save the small population of endangered southern resident killer whales.
Chinook salmon, also called spring salmon, are the largest Pacific salmon, with some known to tip the scales at 45 kilograms. They are prized by southern resident killer, which rely on the fish for 80 per cent of their diet.
Sooke Coun. Kevin Pearson said fishermen are having a hard time understanding the DFO’s logic after they were willing to comply with any number of measures, including accepting a plan to have a fishing closure from Sheringham Point to East Point.
Instead, DFO expanded the closure to a complete ban on fin-fish from Otter Point to East Point, with no consultation with fishermen or local officials.
“It’s a very negative move by the federal government,” Pearson said. “This has a huge economic impact on Sooke.”
He said not long ago, the federal, provincial, and federal governments invested in the public boat launch in Sooke to enhance recreational opportunities, and, as well, local conservation groups have reared millions of young chinook and released them back into the wild.
“The feds should look at the overall fishery,” Pearson said. “The root cause of protecting the orcas, they say, is to protect the chinook stocks that are dwindling, but they aren’t putting money into enhancement.”
Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke MP Randall Garrison shares the same sentiment as Pearson, calling on DFO to increase salmon enhancement efforts.
“I am disappointed that the minister of fisheries has decided to impose closures on the recreational fisheries in the Juan de Fuca region,” he said.
“While the recreational fishery in our region represents a very small percentage of the chinook catch, the efforts of anglers to restore salmon stocks and enhance salmon bearing streams have an enormous positive impact on salmon stocks and the southern resident killer whales that rely on them.”
The federal government is spending $9.5 million to help restore chinook salmon habitat, and more efforts to support killer whales will be announced in the near future, the Fisheries Department said.
On Monday, Sooke council agreed to write a letter to Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc to outline its concerns for the fishing closure and to request meeting with fishery officials.