Recreational fishing, and the tourism associated with it, brings a ton of money into Vancouver Island communities every year.
But with the federal government looking at the possibility of further restriction of the chinook fishery this year as it attempts to mitigate the declining returns in the Fraser River, anglers are worried that may not be the case going forward.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has sent out a letter on its 2019 Fraser River chinook conservation measures, citing a Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) report issued last November that showed that, of the 16 southern BC chinook designations, 13 originate in the Fraser River. Seven of those designations are currently assessed as “endangered,” with another four listed as “threatened.”
In 2018, DFO restricted the recreational fishery in our area to one per day per angler from June 1 to Sept. 1 as it aimed to reduce fishery mortality rates on Fraser chinook salmon by a target of 25 to 35 per cent.
This year, one of the options that DFO is considering – being called Option B – is to continue that restriction. Option A, however, is to lower the chinook retention number to zero from April 1 to July 31 before raising it to one chinook per day from Aug. 1 to Aug. 29 and further increasing it to two chinook from Aug. 30 to the end of the year.
Long-time fishing guide, member of various advisory committees – as well as a 20-year member of the Canadian delegation to the Pacific Salmon Treaty Process – Jeremy Maynard, who presented to Campbell River city council at its Committee of the Whole this week asking for a letter of support for the fishery to remain open, says should DFO choose Option A, it would have a huge impact on the local tourism economy. He was brought in by council at the last minute to speak on this topic due to the urgency of the subject, as the government is looking to receive feedback on its two proposals by the end of February.
“This wouldn’t just affect those of us who work in the sport fishery,” Maynard says. “The spin-off effects would be significant. The social, and obviously economic, impact of that would be enormous – and enormously negative.”
While he admits that there does need to be a strategy in place to manage the problem of declining returns, he says decimating a region’s tourism industry over a very small percentage of the fish in question isn’t reasonable.
“There’s no question that there’s a chinook conservation issue,” Maynard says. “And the situation has been developing for a number of years … but when the fish return from the open ocean, they generally go through the Straight of Juan de Fuca. We catch a few here, but it’s a very, very small percentage. But because we catch some, we’re caught in this broader proposal from the DFO.”
His opinion is that while anglers do need to keep down the number of fish they are keeping, the bigger problem in terms of fish returns isn’t what happens when they’re in the ocean, but what’s happening to their spawning grounds and streams.
“In the big, big picture, this is a climate change issue,” Maynard says. “Their freshwater environment is being severely compromised because of the warming environment, the pine beetles and the accelerated logging and the loss of the forest cover in the Interior. This has impacted how snow accumulates and then melts, resulting in a much shorter and more intense spring runoff that has been extremely disruptive.”
The federal government is receiving feedback and input on its proposed restrictions until the end of February before DFO decides whether to go with Option A or Option B, a decision Maynard says is expected before the middle of March.
Mayor Andy Adams says council will draft a letter in support of keeping the chinook fishery open and send it to Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson by Friday, March 1.
“I think it would be safe to say there would be a fair number of operators that would not be able to recover (should the government choose Option A),” Adams says.
“I think that’s a fair assessment,” Maynard says.