Salmon News

Posted January 19, 2022

Report on Alaskan fisheries’ impacts on B.C. salmon alarms First Nation, conservation groups

CBC News by Liam Britten – January 15, 2022

B.C. environmental groups and the Tŝilhqot’in First Nation are expressing alarm and outrage in the wake of a report suggesting B.C. salmon populations may be hurt by fishing in Alaskan waters.

Alaskan authorities, however, are dismissing those allegations, calling the report a “targeted attack” against a sustainable fishery compliant with international agreements.

The report was commissioned by salmon advocacy groups Watershed Watch Salmon Society and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. 

It found that with salmon fisheries in B.C. curtailed in recent years due to low fish numbers, one Alaskan fishery off the panhandle often has the largest commercial catch of B.C. salmon.

“There is growing concern … Alaskan catch continues to have an impact on Canadian salmon and steelhead populations,” the report’s abstract states.

“Given the current depressed status of many wild populations across B.C., and in the context of changing marine and freshwater environments due to various threats such as land use, forestry practices, and climate change, further examination of [Alaskan fishing] impacts on B.C. salmon appears warranted.”

Pacific salmon spend parts of their lives in ocean water and some — like Skeena River sockeye on B.C.’s North Coast — cross international maritime boundaries between Canada and the U.S. and might be caught by either country’s fishing fleets. 

First Nation expresses frustration

Greg Taylor, fisheries advisor for Watershed Watch Salmon Society, says the continued Alaskan harvesting of B.C. salmon is wrong when fisheries in the province are closed to rebuild stocks.

“The proportion taken by Alaska continues to grow,” Taylor said. “We really need every fish that we can to get back to our streams now because every fish now is precious … it could be the difference between being able to recover these populations.”

The Tŝilhqot’in Nation, in a statement, also highlighted “outrage” over the report’s findings. 

“Our Nation has made huge sacrifices to conserve salmon over the years, including protecting the headwaters in our title lands where these salmon spawn, and having the last remaining relatively healthy Fraser River sockeye run,” Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government said in the statement.

“Our Nation has implemented closures and denied our citizens their Aboriginal right to fish, impacting our traditional way of life, our economy and the mental and physical health of our peoples. We made these sacrifices because there were so few fish remaining in 2019 and 2020, only to learn that the drastic decline in returns was the result of major overfishing in Alaskan waters.”

The Tŝilhqot’in Nation said it wants an independent review of the Pacific Salmon Treaty — which sets rules for salmon fishing between Canada and the U.S. — with Tŝilhqot’in representatives’ participation. The statement also calls for a renegotiation and new measures within the treaty.

Alaskan authorities are calling the report’s findings biased and unfair.

In a statement, the state’s Department of Fish and Game said that Alaska continues to uphold the salmon treaty and B.C. fisheries also catch U.S.-bound fish swimming in Canadian waters.

“I was disappointed by what I consider to be a targeted attack on Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries by these special interest groups,” Department Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said in the statement. 

“Moreover, I find the timing of the release of this report to be suspect as it coincides with ongoing Pacific Salmon Treaty meetings. The summary comments were subjective and one-sided and appear to be designed to derail Pacific Salmon Treaty talks.”

Claire Teichman, press secretary for federal fisheries minister Joyce Murray said fisheries officials have received the report and are reviewing it.

“Canada and the United States meet regularly and report to each other on fishery harvests, research, management and conservation objectives to facilitate the implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty,” Teichman wrote in an email. 

She also highlighted $647 million in federal spending to revitalize Pacific salmon populations, which she called the largest investment Canada has ever made in salmon.

See full article here . . . .

Posted January 19, 2022

Treaty failing to protect North Coast, B.C. salmon from Alaskan commercial fisheries: report

Prince Rupert Northern Voice by Norman Galimski

January 17, 2022

The Pacific Salmon Treaty is failing to protect North Coast and B.C. salmon from Alaskan commercial fisheries, a new report released jointly by Skeena Wild Conservation Trust (SWCT) and Watershed Watch Salmon Society (WWSS), on Jan. 11, states.

The Alaskan Interceptions of BC Salmon: State of Knowledge report indicates nearly 34 million pink salmon, with an unknown amount being of Canadian origin, were caught in Southeast Alaskan interception fisheries last year.

“The governments of Canada and B.C. need to stand up right now and do something about this Alaskan plunder,” Aaron Hill, executive director of WWSS, said.

The responsibility to deal with the consequences falls squarely on the desk of Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Skeena Bulkely MP Taylor Bachrach, told The Northern View on Jan. 13.

“The minister needs to do more to stand up for Canadian interests at the Pacific Salmon Commission,” the MP said. “Those conversations are happening right now in Vancouver. I certainly hope that the issues raised in this report are brought up as part of those conversations.”

“Alaskan fisheries are now the biggest harvesters of a growing number of depleted Canadian salmon populations,” Hill said.

In the summer of 2021, nearly 60 per cent of B.C. salmon fisheries were closed by the federal government, in order to restock the marine resource, after population numbers hit record lows.

Many of B.C.’s largest salmon runs pass through Alaskan waters on their way home to spawn in Canadian rivers.

“While commercial fishing was nearly non-existent in B.C. last summer, Alaskan fleets just across the border logged over 3,000 boat-days and harvested almost 800,000 sockeye (most of which were of Canadian origin),” both WWSS and SWCT stated in a joint press release.

In addition to sockeye, tens of thousands of Canadian Chinook and Coho were also harvested, as well as large but unknown numbers of co-migrating Canadian pink, chum, and steelhead, many of which come from threatened and endangered populations, they stated.

Also indicated was that more than 1.2 million chum were caught, with an unknown number of them returning in the co-migration to B.C. during a time when North and Central Coast chum populations were at very low levels. Hundreds of thousands of genetically distinct Nass and Skeena salmon, from 82 regional species, were also reported to have been caught across the border.

“We knew the Alaskans were intercepting a lot of B.C. salmon … but these numbers are staggering,” Greg Knox, executive director of SWCT, said.

The species’ migratory routes returning to provincial waterways run through Southeast Alaskan fishery district 104, which begins less than 150 km north-west of Prince Rupert and is located on the western-most coast of the Alaskan panhandle. The report suggests district 104 is where most of the returning fish are caught, often as bycatch (unintentional harvested species).

“I’m also appalled at their failure to report their bycatch of non-target species, which Canadian fishers are required to do,” Knox said.

In October Bachrach engaged in a visit to Washington to speak to Alaskan delegates specifically about the need for salmon protection.

“The measures in the original 1/8 Pacific Salmon 3/8 treaty are no longer up to the task of protecting B.C. salmon,” he said, on Jan. 13.

“ 1/8 The 3/8 treaty was first negotiated back in 1985, at a time of relative abundance, and it was really a treaty focused on the sharing of economic benefits. Today in 2022, the context around wild salmon in B.C. is dramatically different. We have a huge conservation concern. We’ve seen stocks decline precipitously.”

Since the treaty was first signed many Canadian and American salmon stocks have declined to a point of being threatened or endangered. Canada started to close its interception fishing in northern B.C. in the 1990s to protect southern migrating salmon. Alaska now has the only major commercial net interception fisheries in place that target salmon and steelhead returning to another jurisdiction, WWSS and SWCT issued as background information to their press release.

Potential impacts of Alaskan harvesters on endangered salmon and steelhead population as well as possible gaps in the state’s monitoring of responsible fisheries management are also highlighted in the report.

“Canadian fishers and taxpayers are making incredible sacrifices to protect and rebuild our salmon runs, while the Alaskan interception fishery continues unchecked. It is irresponsible of both countries to continue to allow this,” Hill said.

Some chapters of the maritime treaty are set to renew in 2028.

“We can’t wait until 2028 to fix it,” Hill said.

Fish harvesting in Alaska has downstream effects on First Nations communities in B.C.

“There are 1/8 Indigenous 3/8 communities that haven’t been able to fulfill their constitutionally protected rights to food fisheries for years and years,” Bachrach said. “There are also indigenous nations that are working so hard to rebuild diminished runs of wild salmon and for these weak stocks, even a small percentage mortality can have a really detrimental impact.”

Fairness is one of the concepts that underline the international treaty and underscores Canada’s relationship with the U.S. when it comes to wild salmon, Bachrach said.

“One of the basic principles is the idea that Canadians and Americans should benefit from the resource in proportion to our respective country’s capacity to produce them,” he said.

Though mostly talked about in the context of who gets to catch how many fish, Bachrach said B.C. is in a place where it needs to focus on salmon conservation and on rebuilding the abundance and diversity of the natural resource.

“We need to come together around a vision of rebuilding because we’ve seen such troubling declines over the decades – and that’s where my focus really is,” Bachrach said.

See full article . . . . .

Insurmountable: The battle to bring a salmon run home

Canadian Geographic by Kate Helmore / January 14, 2022

In a tapestry of rivers and streams of the Fraser River, lost beneath a layer of pebbles, and shaded by the shadow of trees, hides a horde of salmon eggs, brilliantly orange and each barely the size of a grain of rice.

It took every last sinew, tissue and fibre of the parent salmon to fertilize and hide these eggs. These adults survived the jaws of orcas and the ingenious traps of humankind — and battled for weeks against water more powerful than Niagara Falls to
reach this particular pebbled safehouse. They had not paused to eat since leaving the ocean weeks before, drawing energy from every last muscle save for their reproductive organs. After this arduous journey, the mother salmon used her last reserves to cover her eggs, flipping pebbles with her tail until it was literally stripped to the bone. When she did finally die, her rotting body decomposed into the water, becoming food for the children she would never meet.

But these eggs are also the fruits of intense human perseverance — the culmination of an enormous three-year battle against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Sometime in early November 2018, 85,000 cubic metres of rock — the equivalent of 750 double decker buses — sheared off a 125-metre-high cliff and tumbled into a remote section of the Fraser River. The rocks created a waterfall two storeys high and a ravenous stretch of rapids.

Spawning salmon were among the first to discover the landslide. Their finely tuned bodies, an evolutionary masterpiece capable of jumping as high as an Olympic high jumper, could not compete with the destruction nature had wrought. Unable to pass the falls, they were pinned below, their energy and flesh rapidly depleting, unfertilized eggs trapped in their bellies. Neither salmonid nor human could afford to lose this battle.

Many of the spawning salmon trapped below the landslide were part of a run called the early Stuart sockeye. This population is facing rapid decline due to overfishing, agriculture, climate change and “the blob,” a mass of relatively warm water off the Pacific coast. In 1992, 700,000 early Stuarts spawned; at the turn of the millennium, that number was below 200,000. In 2018, 57,014 made it home.

It’s not only the early Stuarts that are facing extinction. All Fraser River salmon are in decline. Between 1980 and 2010, spawning runs could reach up to 30 million. But just four years after that period, barely over 18 million salmon returned. In 2018, the number had dwindled to below 12 million.

The salmon are a keystone species; some 134 other animals feed on them, from river otters to grizzly bears. In areas where salmon are abundant, the bear population can be up to 20 times greater. As their bodies fertilize the soil, salmon are an essential source of nitrogen for trees — an agent of conservation for our forest ecosystems.

Salmon are also vital to the physical and spiritual health of First Nations communities along the Fraser River, from the Lheidli T’enneh in Prince George to the Stó:lō Nation in the Lower Mainland. Words, phrases and ways of understanding the world are inextricably tied to the fishing, processing and eating of salmon. If the salmon are in peril, so is the language and culture that connects future generations to their Elders and ancestors.

The few salmon that do survive their run hold the health of ecosystems and entire communities in their embattled bodies. And in 2019 the salmon that sought to spawn upriver of the landslide were trapped, facing an impossible obstacle with no chance of survival.

On June 20, 2019, Greg Witzky boarded a helicopter in Lillooet, B.C., and flew 63 kilometres to Big Bar Canyon, the site of the landslide. He flew over the winding Fraser River, an army-green snake that cut through hills of sand and dirt that spread across the mountainsides like knotted tree roots. The site of the landslide slid into view: the waterfall transformed the smooth surface of the river into white-peaked, sharp-set rapids. 

“Flying over it brought tears to my eyes,” says Witzky, operations manager at the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat and part-time Indigenous project director on the Big Bar landslide remediation response team. The landslide had caused “a drastic change in the way that the river flowed. There was no way that any fish were getting over that five-metre drop.”

When the helicopter landed, Witzky approached the banks of the river and surveyed the struggling salmon. Determined to get home, they had mounted an unrelenting siege against the impenetrable waterfall. In turn, the waterfall and rapids had torn apart their bodies. Many didn’t have jaws, their faces ripped to shreds. The pressure of the water and the stress of their efforts had burst their eyeballs out of their sockets. They were broken, exhausted.

Witzky, who is from the Secwepemc Nation, pulled out his medicine pouch and lit a tobacco offering. He knew that getting the salmon upstream would be an extensive, arduous and expensive project. This was a fight against time, and much of it was already lost. He knew that many of the salmon wouldn’t make it. “Just talking about it brings back memories,” says Witzky, his voice cracking. “We just knew no fish would get by. There was not a chance, not without our help.”

The Big Bar emergency response launched immediately. It was a collaboration between local First Nations communities, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the B.C. government. The first stage of the operation was simple: get as many salmon over the falls as possible. To achieve this objective, they raised an army.

Rock scalers formed one battalion. They launched themselves from the cusp of the canyon and 125 metres into the chasm below. As they descended, they removed debris from the side of the landslide using pry bars and pickaxes. Water was dropped from the edge of the cliff to sluice through loose rock.

Forest firefighters were also enlisted. They grabbed salmon from the river and placed up to 21 sockeye in large, round metal bins. The bins were connected, via a steel cable, to a helicopter, which flew over the mountain and dropped its precious load into the river beyond the falls. Each day, three helicopters would do 20 runs in tandem, racing from the beaches to the river beyond the falls. Some 400 salmon a day were transported this way.

Rebecca Riley spent the summer of 2019 in the belly of the canyon, battered by the downdraft of the helicopters and scorched by 40 C temperatures. A self-professed “fish doctor” from the St’át’imc Nation, she measured the temperature and oxygen levels of the water and the stress levels of the salmon within the steel bins. She’d wake up and get going at 4 a.m. and not leave the site until 7 p.m. The dry heat would chap the workers’ lips until they were raw and bleeding, while the low-flying helicopters kicked up sand and dirt that lashed at the skin and invaded the eyes and ears. But Riley wouldn’t be anywhere else.

“If you stood on the beach and closed your eyes, you could hear the guys hollering because they’re pulling in the net, and you could hear the boats going up and down the river. You could hear the helicopters going cuka cuka cuka,” she says. “And when the helicopters pounded, it was like your heart pounding — like, ‘we’re going to get this; we’re going to save these guys; we’re going to save these fish.’”

But, as Witzky had feared, they were too late. Especially for the early Stuart sockeye that had been at the landslide for weeks, their bodies broken and their energy reserves depleted. When the crews dropped the fish into the river beyond the falls, the salmon were too tired or confused to fight the current, and in this moment of weakness, the raging waters swept them downstream, over the falls and back through the rapids. Eventually they surrendered. Their rotting bodies floated downstream or sank to the floor of the Fraser, carrion for scavenging eagles or bottom-feeders, their precious, unfertilized eggs trapped in their bellies.

Out of a run of 26,100 early Stuarts, only 88 salmon made it to their spawning grounds.

“Very, very few made it through. And what did were too tired to make it home and died and dropped back over,” says Witzky. “They came from the ocean, with bigger fish trying to eat them all their lives and then they could not do what they’re born to do.”

Hope for the early Stuart sockeye rested on the fish in the 2020 run that weren’t mature enough in 2019 to leave the ocean — as their older brothers and sisters perished at the canyon, they were still in the sea, preparing to spawn. Like generations
before them, they fed on krill, crustaceans and smaller fish, migrating hundreds of miles across the Northwest Coast, growing bigger, stronger and faster. Back on land, crews at Big Bar were also preparing, determined to get these salmon home. Over the winter and early spring of 2020, the provincial government spent $4 million on a road to Big Bar. A dirt road with a mountain of sand on one side and a sharp drop on the other side, it meant the crews and heavy machinery could move in and out of the site.

Crews had also started work on a permanent solution in the winter of 2020: the nature-like “fishway,” a series of strategically placed boulders the size of large refrigerators. These boulders created pools where fish could gather energy and rest before dashing to the next. The pools increased the salmon’s chances of making it past the rapids and over the falls, and they also slowed the speed of surging water.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada also brought in a Whooshh Passage Portal — a salmon cannon. Using compressed air, it pumps fish through a long tube two-and-a-half times longer than a hockey rink. The salmon travel eight metres per second, spending about 20 seconds in the tube. The salmon crews hoped the fishway would work, but the Whooshh was a backup plan.

But even the best-laid schemes of fish and men often go awry.

Everything had to be dismantled and relocated at the last minute. A lot of snow, combined with extremely wet conditions in the spring and summer, led to a once-in-a-century flood. The riverbanks burst and threatened to swallow the camp office and the platform housing the control panels for the Whooshh. The Whooshh itself was not effective in these conditions. Designed to transport fish over human-made dams in the Columbia Basin, it could not handle a free-flowing river that rose one to two metres within a matter of hours.

The flood also trapped the salmon further downstream. Many did not make it past Hells Gate, a narrow gorge that forces the entire volume of the Fraser River through a small gap the length of three school buses. The gorge is a result of a 1914 landslide created by railroad construction. These days it has a permanent fish ladder, a series of concrete pools built to help fish climb a waterfall. On any normal year, this ladder is a tricky obstacle, but the flood made it insurmountable for many and exhausted those that did pass.

“Every time we tried to do something out of Big Bar, every little job, whether it was transporting, whether it was setting up an office … it had to be done twice because of the floods,” says Riley. “You can’t expect it’s ever going to go the way [you planned]. No matter how much you plan, you’re gonna run into something somewhere.” Regardless, Riley sees summer 2020 as a turning point. They’d started work on a permanent long-term solution, and this was a foundation they could build on.

In June and July 2021, just short of 70,000 early Stuart sockeye salmon battled up the Fraser River, racing to their spawning grounds. Pat O’Brien was waiting for them. A fisheries technician from Gitxsan First Nation, O’Brien arrived at the canyon in May 2021. He operated the fish wheel — an aluminum, waterbound ferris wheel that scoops up salmon from the river and holds them in live wells. These salmon would be placed in holding cells in the back of trucks, which would then transport the salmon past the falls.

The fish wheel, a tool from the Kitsumkalum First Nation, was replacing the Whooshh, which was dismantled at the end of 2020. But while the fish wheel was effective because of its simplicity, using it was still not the preferred option. Handling and transporting the fish could lead to another bad year for spawning because it would stress them and damage their bodies. If all went to plan and the solutions worked, the salmon would pass through the falls on their own.

“Waiting for the fish to arrive, I was feeling optimistic. But I was also preparing for the worst, which would be having to catch and move every single fish,” says O’Brien, “I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but it was definitely a thought in my mind that if the water levels were too high, then the fish would be onto the trucks.”

However, as with every other step of the Big Bar rescue, Mother Nature had other ideas.

On June 25, 2021, just as the salmon were reaching the canyon, the Pacific northwest was hit by a record-shattering heat wave. In Lytton, a town just outside Big Bar, the heat dome led to highs of 49.6 C, the highest recorded temperature in Canadian history. It parched the land and led to devastating forest fires. The town of Lytton was burned to the ground in a series of large fires that were quickly spreading across the entire region. The Big Bar crew, about 120 kilometres away, had no choice but to evacuate. O’Brien received the first word on his radio about an approaching forest fire from the site supervisor and looked up to see a sliver of smoke in the distance. Thirty minutes later, as he was ferrying staff across the river, smoke had filled the horizon.

“I was annoyed,” says O’Brien. “I wasn’t annoyed with the fires, or the response, but it was just another thing we had to deal with, another factor — another piece of adversity at Big Bar.” Much of the Big Bar crew was sent home, leaving O’Brien and a small skeleton crew behind to monitor the fish and maintain operations. This crew was too small to transport the salmon. If the salmon could not pass, no one could help them. “There would have been nothing to do except hope and wait,” says O’Brien. “It had the potential to be really bad.”

However, for the first time in a gruelling three-year battle, the tide turned in favour of the salmon. The water levels, at first high due to the snow melt, dropped. The salmon passed the landslide and, in June and July, found their way home. “It was just complete relief,” says O’Brien. “It felt like a job well done.” By the end of July, around 79,000 salmon had passed the Big Bar landslide. Not a single salmon needed to be transported — including early Stuart sockeyes.

For the time being, work at the Big Bar landslide is on hold. Witzky is back in Adams Lake, the site of one of the world’s largest salmon migrations. Last year was an excellent year for Shuswap salmon, with runs numbering way beyond expectations. The fish Witzky caught will be canned, dried and smoked — given to family members and preserved for future years, when the runs might not be as plentiful.

Rebecca Riley is at home in Lillooet, just one hour south of Big Bar Canyon. She will not fish this year because stocks are too low. Instead, she looks forward to a time when she can become a fisherwoman once again.

Pat O’Brien finally made it home to Hazelton, B.C., in late October, just as temperatures fell below zero and snow started to fall. He missed the salmon migration because he was in Lillooet, collecting and tagging salmon for population enhancement
efforts. Missing this year’s run means he missed teaching his eldest daughter to fillet. But to O’Brien it was worth it. He’s working for a future where salmon thrive again.

In the meantime, the Big Bar response is drawing up a report that will help them decide on a plan of action. “If we get lucky and water levels are fairly reasonable, we might not have to do any work,” says Witzky. “But it’s all scientific-guessery. And when it comes to these salmon, we can’t be going out on a whim.”

The Big Bar landslide is part of a bigger story, about our attitude to nature and crisis, and the consequences of such an attitude: a lack of foresight has led to overfishing, harmful agriculture, climate crisis and a host of other factors that are cascading into seemingly insurmountable obstacles that threaten both salmonid and humankind. And in both the landslide and the overarching fight to save salmon, only our hands can carve a way through the mountain.

In both Big Bar and the general fight to save Pacific salmon, we can either deal in best- and worst-case scenarios, or we can rally to the call of an emergency with salmon-like determination.

Ideally, the future of Fraser River salmon will be foretold by those tiny orange eggs, hidden in a tapestry of rivers and streams high above the Fraser River. The result of immense human effort, these salmon will one day hatch, leave their pebbled safehouse and travel to the ocean. When they return home, they will, hopefully, pass through the landslide that took the lives of countless ancestors, embattled but empowered to surmount the insurmountable.

See full article here . . . .

First Nations, conservationists rescue dozens of endangered salmon stranded in B.C. floods

Vancouver is Awesome by Stefan Labbé / December 24, 2021

In one week, crews from the Sumas and Sto:lo nations, as well as staff from the Pacific Salmon Foundation rescued 26 coho salmon — many of them females that hold thousands of eggs vital to keep the endangered runs alive.

First Nations and environmentalists have rescued dozens of endangered coho salmon over the past week after November’s devastating flooding left them stranded in fields of several Abbotsford farmers. 

In one week, crews from the Sumas and Sto:lo nations, as well as staff from the Pacific Salmon Foundation rescued 26 coho salmon — many of them females that hold thousands of eggs vital to keep the endangered runs alive.  

“We don’t know exactly where the fish came from. But when the floods happened the salmon came into these fields from breaches in the dikes,” says Jason Hwang, vice-president of the Pacific Salmon Foundation. 

Escaping into quiet backwaters to ride out a flood is natural behaviour for salmon, but when natural flood plains are diked off and turned into farmland, the fish have a hard time making their way back to the river, says Hwang.

In the days after the flooding in mid-November, reports of stranded sturgeon circulated on social media, with one fishing guide taking it upon themselves to rescue several of the ancient fish. 

“That was a signal there were fish flushed out into the fields,” said Hwang. “Once the water started to recede, we thought we’d have a look.”

Hwang’s group hired biologist Mike Pearson, an expert who has spent years researching fish on the Nooksack River. Crews were brought in from the Sumas Nation and Sto:lo Nation to round out the recovery team. 

Several fields the group surveyed near Highway 1 and Whatcom Road sat abandoned, the farmers having been displaced; in other cases, the farmers had no problem with the group wading through the muddy, knee-high floodwaters. 

Hwang says they expected to find a lot of juvenile salmon, but they were nowhere to be seen, the easy prey likely picked from newly formed pools by thousands of birds. 

Then they started coming across what appeared to be healthy adult fish. 

“It’s quite amazing that we did find adult coho and they were, at least to a biologist’s eye, in good shape,” Hwang tells Glacier Media. “The fish are fantastic.”

Or as one young volunteer put it, “I never thought I’d be in my field fishing for coho salmon.”

While 26 fish might not seem like a big number, the projected devastation of many salmon runs across flood-affected tributaries means any egg-bearing adult could be the difference between extirpation and survival.

From the muddy field water, all the adult coho were moved and released into the Sumas River. 

Elsewhere in the province, it has been harder to gauge what kind of damage has been done to salmon populations and the habitat they live in. The expectation, says Hwang, is that in rivers like the Coldwater, Coquihalla and Nicola, researchers will find spawning salmon have been washed away. 

“The effects are probably very, very serious,” he says.

In the days after the flooding, Simon Fraser University researcher Jeremy Venditti boarded a helicopter to survey the damage to fish habitat up the Fraser River and its tributaries. What he found was both reassuring and sobering. 

On the one hand, he found no major changes to the morphology of the Fraser or Thompson rivers. Other, small watersheds were devastated. 

“In the Coquihalla River, in places where there might have been salmon, the river has changed so much there that the eggs have been washed away — for sure,” says Venditti.

Just how many fish have been killed and how much habitat has been damaged won’t start to reveal itself until next spring, when researchers can survey juvenile fish populations in areas hit by flooding and landslides.

“You can’t get into the Nicola, the highway is gone,” says Hwang.

That picture will become even clearer when two years from now pink salmon start to return to the main branch of the Fraser; three years from now, researchers will be able to estimate how many surviving coho, chinook, chum and sockeye return to spawn the next generation.

Back in Abbotsford, staff from the Sumas Nation have taken over reconnaissance for any remaining salmon trapped in the floodwaters, and staff from Fisheries and Oceans Canada are on standby to help. Coho are well within their spawning season now, and likely have another week or two before their chance to drop eggs into the riverbed expires, says Hwang.

Clearly, their own survival is at stake too. As the waters continue to recede, any remaining fish face an increasingly hostile environment — less water means the concentration of pollutants climbs and temperatures are expected to plunge to minus 11 Celsius in the coming days, causing fields and ponds to freeze over.

“They won’t survive out there forever,” says Hwang. “The fish are on a clock.”

See full article here . . . . . . . . . .

Posted: January 13, 2022

‘The salmon will come back again’: First Nations document devastating low returns on B.C.’s central coast

The Narwhal by Stephanie Wood / December 23, 2021

Fifty years ago, an average of 47,000 salmon returned annually to the Neekas River north of Bella Bella. In 2021, the 750 salmon returning to the once-teeming waterway act as a fresh warning to local First Nations that urgent action is needed — at both the provincial and federal level — to prevent total population collapse.

Mike Reid was never on shore in the summertime as a child. He was out on his uncle’s fishing boat, beginning when he was five or six years old when he helped out by doing dishes, surrounded by the sea. He graduated to fishing when he was 12 years old.

The men started fishing at 3:30 a.m., and while his uncle told him he could sleep later, Reid wanted to wake up with everyone else.

“I wanted to work hard because everyone else was working hard,” Reid, citizen of the Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) Nation, told The Narwhal. 

The whole community was self-sufficient, he said. They had their own hydro plant, they enforced their own bylaws and maintained their own roads.

“We didn’t depend on anyone,” he said. “Nobody went hungry.”

Reid, who is now fisheries manager for the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, leased his own boat when he was 18-years-old and fishing brought him to the Alaska border and California. His ancestors before him had been fishermen and he believed he would earn his livelihood that way forever. 

“It was a lot happier time,” he said. “A healthier time.”

But when salmon stocks began to crash in the late 1990s his once-self-reliant community lost jobs and traditional food sources. Things have never been the same, he said.

Reid said salmon returns in Heiltsuk territory in recent years — particularly from 2019 to 2021 — have gotten to the point they’re plain “scary.”

The Húy̓at watershed on northern Hunter Island, just south of Bella Bella, once saw between 4,000 and 6,000 salmon return in its four rivers. In 2021, just 100 salmon returned across four rivers in the watershed, according to Heiltsuk monitoring.

The Neekas River, north of Bella Bella, is viewed as an indicator waterway for the health of salmon, Reid said. Between 1960 and 1970, an average 47,000 salmon returned. By 2010, its ten-year average return had declined to 29,000 salmon, according to data Reid collected from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

In 2021, just 750 salmon total returned to the Neekas, Reid said.

“I didn’t ever want to be the person to count the last salmon going up the river. In 2021, we may have been those people that saw those last salmon for those specific stocks,” he said.

Rivers across the central coast of British Columbia have seen significant salmon declines, but Reid said there is less public attention in his region. He fears people aren’t aware of just how much salmon are struggling on the central coast, along with other marine food sources that have been hard-hit like rockfish, seaweed, abalone and herring.

“When you come up to the central coast, you’re looking at the mountains, the scenery, it’s very beautiful,” he said. “But if you looked under the ocean, it’s not anymore.”

Climate change is a major contributor to declining salmon, causing warming waters and drought that can dry up spawning pools. Overfishing and sea lice from fish farms have also been named as threats to wild salmon health by salmon experts, along with habitat degradation from development and industry.

To save central coast salmon, Reid says First Nations need to be empowered to take more leadership over fisheries, and local management and data collection has to be strengthened. It may mean going without fish for a while, but he wants to give salmon time to recover so he can see his community become self-sufficient again.

“I have five children and fifteen grandchildren that will be here long after I’m gone,” he said. “They will need something to eat to survive.”

He said he holds on to hope, as First Nations keep pushing for stronger action to protect salmon.

“The salmon will come back again. … I’m optimistic that, with time, they’ll return.”

Losing salmon on B.C. coast ‘unthinkable’

After salmon returns plummeted in the 1990s, Reid couldn’t catch enough fish to support his family. He left his life as a fisherman and became a carpenter. He wasn’t the only one — many people who had grown up fishing their whole lives as their sole income were affected, he said.

“It was devastating. It was coast-wide,” he said. “It affects more than just the fishers. It affects the whole family, it affects the whole community.”

He said the ability to survive as Heiltsuk people was severely impacted. 

Húy̓at is home to an ancient village site, and not long ago was it dotted with root gardens, clam gardens, fish traps and smokehouses. People still know where they stood today. But marine food sources have continued to decline and people have become more reliant on store-bought foods, Reid said. Hydro was taken over by the province and became more expensive.

Reid visits his 91-year-old father every day, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Reid said his father still notices the seasons go by, and at the beginning of summer he always asks Reid if the salmon are starting to return. He asks if the smokehouses are going.

“We lose salmon, we lose a part of who we are as people. That’s why we fight so hard.”

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New fisheries minister wades into fish politics, cutting herring harvest in half

The National Observer by Rochelle Baker

Posted: December 16, 2021

In her first major decision, new federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray has reduced the West Coast commercial herring fishery by half.

Wading into the thick of fish politics Thursday, Murray said the decision is based on an abundance of caution given herring are a critical food for endangered salmon stocks — further jeopardized by the double whammy of fire and floods in B.C. this year.

The sole remaining commercial herring fishery in the Strait of Georgia will be reduced to a 10 per cent harvest rate — down from 20 per cent last year — with a maximum total allowable catch of 7,850 tonnes.

First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries for herring aren’t affected by the reduction.

“This is an extraordinary time, when our Pacific Coast is reeling from natural disasters, and the serious damage they have caused to the environment and our iconic Pacific salmon,” Murray said in a press release.

Herring, vital to the West Coast ecosystem, are in a fragile state, Murray added.

“We must do what we can to protect and regenerate this important forage species.”

Herring catch quota is an ongoing bone of contention

The B.C. herring roe fishery, which typically occurs in the spring, is a long-standing flashpoint of controversy.

The sole remaining commercial herring fishery in the Strait of Georgia will be reduced to a 10 per cent harvest rate — down from 20 per cent last year — with a maximum total allowable catch of 7,850 tonnes. #BC

Conservation groups and some First Nations have argued the 20 per cent catch allocation over the past decade will trigger the collapse of the herring stock with dire outcomes for the whales, seabirds, and salmon. Some critics want a moratorium on the fishery — at the very least until there is an accurate stock analysis.

But catch reductions are wildly unpopular with commercial fishers, under increasing pressure on all sides and still reeling after most of the salmon fishery was shuttered permanently by the ministry this summer.

Conservation group ‘amazed’ at decision

The minister’s announcement came as a complete surprise, said Jay Ritchlin, director-general of the David Suzuki Foundation for Western Canada.

The foundation has been pushing Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to lower the herring catch allotment to 10 per cent for the past three years, previously without effect, Ritchlin said.

“It’s really amazing from our point of view and a pleasant surprise,” Ritchlin said, adding the foundation doesn’t support a complete moratorium on the fishery.

The minister’s decision seems to mark a turn from management decisions that typically focus on a maximum sustainable yield, he said.

“Which to me is basically like seeing how much you can take before you crash the whole system,” Ritchlin said.

“We have just always thought this could be an ecosystem-based fishery where humans interact with the environment in a respectful way.”

Fishermen are going ‘bankrupt’

Murray’s decision makes the commercial herring fishery unfeasible and coastal communities will pay the price, said James Lawson, president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union.

“People rely on this fishery,” Lawson said, adding harvesters paying thousands of dollars for licences can’t make a return when half their herring quota disappears.

The fishing community is already struggling to stay afloat, he said, citing former minister Bernadette Jordan’s closure of 60 per cent of the province’s commercial salmon fisheries — a measure to try to prevent the collapse of B.C.’s keystone species, which has been on the decline for years due to climate change, habitat loss and overfishing.

“I think this is going to bankrupt people,” he said, noting herring is one of the only spring fisheries remaining for harvesters.

The fishery is sustainable, he said, disagreeing that herring stocks are at imminent risk.

“The decision is political, not based in science,” he said. “There’s no one more invested in conservation than us, but this is not that case.”

The ministry is going to have to provide harvesters with compensation if there’s any hope they’ll survive, he said.

“I think there’s no way around this. We’re going to need a structural adjustment program.”

Minister aims to strike a balance

The minister’s announcement made no mention of compensation.

“Reduced allocations in the herring fishery are part of an annual process,” the minister’s office wrote in an email to Canada’s National Observer.

“With each fishery, DFO determines what commercial activity the stocks can support, and there is not compensation in the event that a fishery cannot open in a particular year.”

The decision supports fishing where possible, but is also consistent with the goals to recover and regenerate the important herring stocks, Murray said.

“With every fisheries management decision I make as minister, I have to consider the long-term health of the entire ecosystem, as well as the interests of fishers and their communities,” she said.

“As a coastal Canadian, I know that at the centre of every decision there are real people and real communities that will be directly impacted.

“Using the best available science, taking into account any uncertainties or exceptional circumstances, I aim to make decisions that will create economic opportunities and promote stock growth for long-term abundance.”

DFO will release details of the herring fishery management plan with stock projections and management measures in the near future, the ministry said.

See full article here . . . . . . .

Fishery Audit by Oceana

Posted: November 24, 2021

Five years of #FisheryAudit data reveals the Canadian government’s failure to improve how fisheries are managed. Less than a third of marine fish and invertebrate stocks can be confidently considered healthy and nearly one in five are critically depleted. Visit www.FisheryAudit.ca to learn more and to download the FULL REPORT.

Oceana audit says little progress in Canada’s fishery management over last five years

Toronto Star by Keith Doucette The Canadian Press

Nov. 16, 2021

HALIFAX – A new report says Canadian fisheries management has “fallen short” over the last five years, with nearly one in five fish stocks still “critically depleted.”

More than 80 per cent of the critically depleted stocks lack rebuilding plans to restore them to healthy levels, says the fifth annual audit report released Tuesday by Oceana Canada, an independent charity dedicated to ocean conservation.

Robert Rangeley, the advocacy group’s science director, called that percentage “extraordinarily high.”

“We have a challenge in our oceans where we are not managing them effectively,” Rangeley said in a recent interview. “There’s no sense of urgency and we are not delivering on commitments.”

Oceana Canada’s audit investigated 194 Canadian fish stocks and listed 33 in critical condition and the health of 71 as uncertain.

The report said the health status of a third of the stocks remains uncertain because of insufficient data — leaving the federal Fisheries Department operating “mostly in the dark” as it makes critical decisions on fishing quotas.

Rangeley said there is another pressing issue that needs to be accounted for: a changing climate. “We have this increasing pressure of climate change and we don’t know what the vulnerability of many of these stocks are to (that),” he said.

The report noted that the status of about two dozen stocks changes each year. And while species such as deepwater redfish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have steadily improved, others, like North Coast Haida Gwaii razor clams, have steadily declined. Some species, like snow crab on the western Scotian shelf, improve one year only to decline the next.

The audit also sounded the alarm about the declining numbers of forage fish — a development it said puts entire ecosystems at risk. Forage species include bony fish, such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring and capelin, as well as invertebrates like krill and shrimp.

“These essential contributors to ocean ecosystems and Canada’s ocean economy face serious threats,” the report said. “Of the forage fish that are harvested commercially in Canada, there are few healthy populations — and none in Atlantic Canada.”

The audit cited the critically depleted Atlantic mackerel, a forage species that provides food for other fish, marine mammals and seabirds. It also serves as bait in lucrative lobster fisheries.

The report said there are currently no monitoring or reporting requirements for the Atlantic mackerel stock, adding that it’s only recently that bait harvesters in some areas have been required to submit records on landings — defined as the part of the catch that is put ashore. Those shortcomings, the audit said, limit the federal government’s ability to set meaningful timelines and rebuilding targets.

Rangeley said the overfishing of forage species, which he called the “linchpins of the marine ecosystem,” needs to stop, adding that more of the fish need to be left in the water.

“Those stocks will go up and down naturally,” he said. “The problem that’s been seen elsewhere in the world is when you keep fishing them hard and then the stocks crash and you are still fishing them — the depletion goes further down and stays down longer.”

Compounding the problem is an overreliance on four commercial species groups — lobster, shrimp, snow crab and scallops represent 77 per cent of fisheries revenues in Canada.

Oceana said the Fisheries Department has yet to publish most of its promised rebuilding plans, and those that have been released fall short of global standards.

As well, accompanying regulations have not been created two years after the Fisheries Act became law. Rangeley said that’s led to a management performance gap that has to be addressed immediately in order to rebuild faltering stocks.

“Some of those stocks will benefit in the near term while some are so depleted that it will take a long time,” he said.

The report said the Fisheries Department has published new rebuilding plans this year for two critically depleted stocks — Atlantic mackerel and northern cod. But Oceana said the plans lack adequate timelines and targets to help the fish populations recover to healthy levels.

Meanwhile, no rebuilding plans have been developed for 26 of the 33 stocks Oceana listed as in the critical zone.

Oceana, however, said it sees some progress regarding greater transparency, substantial new investments in science, new national standards for monitoring stocks and a modernized Fisheries Act.

But the group says Canada needs to “speed up” the implementation of modern, proven fisheries management measures.

“The urgency is before us now,” Rangeley said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2021.

See full article here . . . . . . .

B.C. flooding: ‘Significant’ salmon losses expected

Vancouver Sun by Tiffany Crawford : Nov 21, 2021

Governments must take more action to address the climate crisis because more intense storms will devastate already struggling salmon habitats, say experts.

Salmon loss could be significant because of the climate crisis-related disaster this week that caused southern B.C.’s rivers to rush at levels not seen in hundreds of years, say experts.

Pink salmon spawned at the end of September in the Vedder/Chilliwack and the Fraser rivers, making them particularly vulnerable to the high flows, said Marvin Rosenau, the main fisheries instructor in the department of fish, wildlife and recreation at the B.C. Institute of Technology.

Rosenau, who is also a member of the Rivers Institute at BCIT, said the surge in rushing water caused by the atmospheric river that hit southern B.C. last Sunday probably caused quite a bit of “scouring” of eggs from the gravel.

Salmon dig holes in the gravel and drop their eggs and then the female uses her tail to beat the gravel to cover the hole. Those eggs incubate and hatch in the spring.

“So if you have really heavy flows coming down and scouring that gravel away, those embryos are toast. They are dead,” said Rosenau.

“So you would have to assume there would have to be a significant impact,” he said.

Chum salmon have just finished spawning while coho are in their peak spawning season right now, he added.

So that makes chum also vulnerable to losses — although Rosenau said they like to spawn inside channels that aren’t usually affected by the heavy flows, so they would be a little more protected. Chum, however, are already threatened and had a record low run this year, he added.

The Fraser River between Hope and Mission has one of the largest runs of salmon spawning in the province. Rosenau estimated that about 50 per cent of pink salmon spawn in the main stem of the Fraser River.

The large flows in the Fraser River usually happen in the spring when the snow melts, but the atmospheric river caused an extraordinary one-in-500-year event with flows of 6,300 cubic metres per second, he said.

“We know at these levels the gravel moves in the Fraser … The problem is that we just had three or four million salmon lay eggs in the gravel,” said Rosenau.

“So the eggs have been washed away out of the gravel. We have to assume there was some loss, but how much loss is still not clear.”

He said while it’s too early to say for sure, there are some signs that coho salmon may have weathered the storm in the Metro Vancouver area. His team of researchers were out Friday at the Coquitlam River, where they found “quite a few” juvenile coho.

This suggests they weren’t washed out by the high flows from the off-channel habitats, and also shows how important these types of habitats are when big storms hit, he added.

Researchers at BCIT, led by Marvin Rosenau in the fish, wildlife and recreation program, found “quite a few” juvenile coho salmon that seemed to have weathered the storm.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans said Friday it is closely monitoring the situation.

See full article here . . . . . .

Fishery Closures and the Ghosts of Past Mistakes

by Michelle Gamage
October 21, 2021

Canada is closing fisheries and buying back licenses. Will this latest scheme save salmon or sink fishers?

David Christian, a 63-year-old gill-netter, first heard about the Pacific salmon fishery closures via cellphone while he was getting his 11-meter Grizzly King gill-netter ready to fish for salmon. The news spread quickly across the calm June waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, as fishers jumped on the radio to figure out what had just happened.

The radio chatter was incessant as fishers wondered aloud where they’d be allowed to fish, if they would be out of business, and what the future would hold. “Everyone was freaking out because all of those questions were unanswered,” Christian says, adding this policy will likely end British Columbia’s commercial salmon industry.

Announced on June 29, the closures are part of the latest plan by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to overhaul the Pacific salmon commercial industry in an attempt to save crashing salmon stocks. Pacific salmon harvests are down to just eight percent of their historical averages. The fishers were reacting to the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI), a CAN $647.1-million plan covering everything from habitat restoration to financial aid for fishers. Its goal: save the salmon and shrink the size of the commercial industry built around them.

Under the PSSI, DFO plans to close 57 percent of the 138 Pacific salmon fisheries along the west coast of British Columbia and Yukon. Closures will help protect at-risk salmon stocks from ending up as by-catch, says Neil Davis, DFO acting regional director of fisheries management. Fishing for salmon in the ocean—unlike traditional practices where Indigenous communities fish in rivers—makes it practically impossible to separate at-risk stocks from healthy stocks.

Davis says closures will protect more than 50 salmon stocks, such as the interior Fraser River coho and Okanagan River chinook, which are being evaluated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada for listing under the Species at Risk Act.

DFO understands that the PSSI will have significant impacts on people who work in the salmon industry. “[But] the status of the stocks demanded difficult decisions be made if we wanted a longer-term future for salmon and therefore for any of the fisheries that depend on salmon,” Davis says.

To harvest salmon, fishers need a commercial license, which outlines the region they can fish and the gear they can use. DFO also determines the target species and the timing of openings. The PSSI closed Area E chum, for example, meaning gill-netters won’t be allowed to harvest Fraser River chum for the 2021 season.

The salmon fishery was the lifeblood of many fishing communities until stocks began to crash in the late 20th century. Photo by Fernando Lessa/Alamy Stock Photo

Despite the threat of widespread closures, only 13 fisheries—rather than the 79 included on the PSSI’s list—were closedHowever, some of those 79 fisheries have been closed for decades with the unlikely possibility of ever opening in 2021 or beyond.


Pacific salmon populations have been in decline over the past four decades. For most of the past century, Canadian fishers caught an annual average of 24 million salmon. That number was cut in half in the early 1990s, and since then has slowly decreased to just two million in recent years.

Aside from overfishing, salmon have had to weather a number of environmental calamities, including record drought and drying streams, warmer ocean temperatures disrupting their diets, and pathogens introduced by the province’s open-net-pen aquaculture industry.

Commercial salmon fishers are critical of the PSSI, saying that the closures will hurt fishers more than benefit fish.

Through the PSSI, DFO is offering to buy salmon licenses for fair market value to support fishers as the commercial industry shrinks. Davis says an exact dollar amount has yet to be decided, but would likely be based on assessed license values over recent years.

But a license buy-back system might not support the most financially vulnerable, such as crew members who have no stake in a license that’s attached to a boat or a company, or the shore-based processors and packers. Plus, anyone retaining a license has seen the value of that license crash with the announcement—no one wants to buy into an industry with such an uncertain future. Though, the market was already slow prior to the announcement.

This isn’t the first time DFO has overhauled the Pacific salmon commercial industry. And it’s not as if the last two times went smoothly, says Jennifer Silver, an associate professor who studies fisheries management at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

In 1969, the Davis Plan transitioned the industry from one in which anyone could apply for a license to a limited license system. The plan reduced the number of licenses and the size of the commercial fleet, and it created a market for buying and selling licenses. Harvesters who’d caught more than 4,500 kilograms of pink or chum salmon, or the equivalent of other species, during the 1967–68 season got a license they could sell to another fisher when they retired. For anyone who’d caught less than that amount, the government issued a license that expired when they retired. The plan had some unintended consequences.

Various government plans to protect salmon stocks and reduce the fishing fleet have had some unwelcome consequences for fishers. Photo by John Zada/Alamy Stock Photo

In a 2019 paper she coauthored, Silver explains how the Davis Plan led to a smaller fleet with more capital. By the 1980s, the total number of vessels in British Columbia’s entire commercial fleet had decreased by 1,000 boats, leaving 6,700. With limited access to the fishery, presumably fishers would make more money, DFO would have an easier time managing a smaller fleet, and overfishing would end. But it didn’t play out that way, Silver says. To maximize their catch, fishers teamed up, or those with more than one salmon license often sold one and used the money to buy better boats and gear, resulting in a higher catch.

The Davis Plan reduced the overall number of boats on the water, but didn’t reduce competition for the salmon resource; fishers just worked harder, Silver says.

By the mid-1990s, salmon stocks were in decline and so were wild salmon prices. Aquaculture was gaining a foothold around the world, and markets were overrun with fresh, year-round salmon that sold for less than wild salmon, explains Greg Taylor, who has 40 years of experience in the salmon industry and works with the nonprofit Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

To spread out the commercial fleet and reduce competition, DFO brought in the 1996 Mifflin Plan. Taylor says the goal was to cut the fleet in half to increase how many salmon each fisher had access to.

Under Mifflin, DFO broke the coastline into regions. They limited licenses to one region and one gear type: seine net, gill net, or trolling lines. Half of Canada’s wild Pacific salmon are caught by seine boats, which loop nets around schools of fish. The other half is divided between gill-netters, which hang nets like a wall in front of migrating salmon, and trollers, which catch salmon by dragging hooks and lines suspended from large trolling poles.

The Mifflin Plan also offered a buy-back system for any fishers interested in retiring their license. Some licenses the government bought back would be reallocated to Indigenous communities through various agreements and overseen by the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative.

Sockeye salmon has been one of the most lucrative fisheries in British Columbia in modern times. Photo by Ingo Arndt/Minden Pictures

DFO wasn’t the only one offering cash for licenses. The Mifflin Plan didn’t regulate the total number of licenses anyone could hold, which created an opportunity for some of the largest processors to accumulate licenses, Silver says.

In Silver’s 2019 paper, she points out how the Jim Pattison Group now controls a massive chunk of the industry, because it owns 424 licenses—239 through its subsidiary the Canadian Fishing Company, 134 directly, and another 51 through a handful of companies. The next-largest owner is the Northern Native Fishing Corporation with 254 licenses. Around 1,360 people own just one license.

Today, there are 2,109 salmon licenses: 1,457 gill net, 376 troll, 276 seine. There are also a number of First Nations licenses permitting the use of mixed gear types, not including gill nets.

Davis says DFO is very aware of its past mistakes, but fishers aren’t convinced the PSSI will unfold without consequences.


“It’s the most important fishery—culturally, socially, and historically—on the coast,” says James Lawson, 32-year-old president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union and member of the Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) Nation. Sweeping closures mean fishers will be out of a job and stuck with their expensive gear, boats, insurance, and moorage, he says.

“This is more than a job. They’re taking away their entire lifestyle, their identity. It’s snuffing out an entire culture,” Lawson warns. “They have nothing left—there are going to be people that kill themselves because of this.” Fishers already struggle with an unstable industry that can cause mental health, addiction, and family problems, Lawson says, adding the PSSI could make these impacts 10 times worse. This time, the change is even more serious, he says: the closures permanently shrink the industry rather than restructure it.

An analysis of commercial fishing licenses, published on December 31, 2019, calculated each salmon seine license to be worth $530,000; a troll license, $167,000; and a gill net license, $56,000. If DFO hypothetically bought all salmon licenses at these prices, it would take up 45 percent of the PSSI budget—meaning there’s considerably less money going toward habitat restoration, Lawson says.

Chris Cue, senior director of fishing operations for the Canadian Fishing Company, says a fisher’s license is their retirement plan, which ironically became the norm once the government began restricting fishing licenses. Closing fisheries under the PSSI drops the value of a license “down to nothing,” which means fishers will be taking a steep loss if they sell their licenses to the government for today’s market value.

Building back salmon stocks to support a healthy fishing fleet will likely take generations. Photo by Nicnic Creative Co/Alamy Stock Photo

Christian says he’s holding onto his license for the Grizzly King for now. He’s concerned that DFO will destroy the license after buying it, and that overall access to Pacific salmon will be further reduced. It costs him $750 annually to renew his gill net license, and he says that’s a worthwhile price to maintain access to the resource.

The PSSI could also impact First Nations commercial fisheries.

Commercial access to salmon for most First Nations governments is through agreements with the Canadian government, says Jim Lane, deputy program manager of Uu-a-thluk, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s aquatic resource management organization. DFO issues nations with communal commercial licenses so that Indigenous communities can participate in commercial fisheries under regular commercial fishing license rules. That means those communities are stuck waiting for DFO to open a fishery before they can put nets in the water, just like the rest of the commercial fleet, Lane says.

Five First Nations will likely be exempt from the closures, says Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and a member of the Hupačasath First Nation in Port Alberni, British Columbia.

Earlier this year, the Nuu-chah-nulth won a court case in the BC Court of Appeal that confirmed First Nations rights to commercial fisheries. For the Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, and Ehattesaht First Nations on western Vancouver Island, their right to fish salmon is second only to conservation efforts, Sayers says.

She also points to the 1990 Sparrow case when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the rights of First Nations to fish are second only to conservation. The BC Court of Appeal declared that right for the five Nuu-chah-nulth nations, but other Nuu-chah-nulth nations have asserted they have the same rights, Sayers said.

DFO has largely branded the PSSI as a conservation effort, but Sayers isn’t sure if it could currently trump First Nations rights. First Nations would never want to endanger salmon runs when conservation is needed, but the PSSI hasn’t identified any specific conservation plans, she says, adding that conservation should be determined with input from First Nations using Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge.

The PSSI closures will reduce how many fish are caught by the commercial fleet, but it might not reduce how many Pacific salmon are caught overall, Lane says. DFO is currently updating its Pacific Salmon Allocation Policy, which says how many fish can be caught by other main harvesting groups—First Nations for food, social, and ceremonial reasons, and recreational fishers. Allocation will also take into account the five Nuu-chah-nulth nations and their court-recognized right to fish commercially.

Lane says releasing the PSSI before updating the allocation policy seems premature. Saving some fish from commercial nets isn’t saving them if they’ll just be caught by the recreational industry, which hasn’t faced sweeping closures under the PSSI, Lane says. “That’s not conservation, just reallocation,” he says.

Davis says many details are still being fleshed out, and the closure of commercial fisheries is just the first step. He adds that within five years, the majority of DFO’s salmon-saving strategy will be underway. Salmon are cyclical and move from their spawning streams to the ocean, and back, in two- to seven-year cycles. “It could be two to three generations of salmon before we’ll be confident we can truly see meaningful results from our investments here. It’s a long-term challenge, and recovery is a longer-term undertaking,” Davis says.

But even in three generations, the question hovering over the plan is whether salmon can survive droughts, warming waters, and habitat degradation.


See full article here . . . . . . . . . .

These Indigenous fishers hold DFO accountable for B.C.’s shocking salmon decline

When Sally Hope was a teenager, summer was the season of salmon. Every year, she would spend weeks at her grandparents’ fishing camp on a remote reach of B.C.’s Fraser River catching and air-drying fish to feed the family through winter.

Standing under an autumn downpour on the banks of a Fraser River tributary near Abbotsford, B.C., the lands and resources manager for the Shxw’ōwhámel First Nation’s eyes still light up at the memory of summers past.

“We wouldn’t leave the camp, everything was there that we needed. There was so much exploring to do, and we also had work. We were taught how to do laundry, peel potatoes. We had jobs very young,” she said. “Those memories are what keeps me going.”

Still, her joy is fleeting: In recent years, she has been lucky to get a single fish.

Air-drying salmon during the summer is vital for many First Nations along the Fraser River, Hope explained. The practice provides culturally important food and teaches valuable lessons. Yet the decline of the salmon is putting this “dry-rack” fishery in peril, with the few FSC openings often occurring too late in the year. Photos: Portrait by Jen Osborne / Canada’s National Observer. Drying salmon provided by Eden Toth / Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance

Salmon stocks on the Fraser have tumbled in the past decade, leading Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to severely limit harvesting on the river, including Indigenous food fisheries.

Under Canadian law, DFO is responsible for managing all of Canada’s oceans, marine fisheries (any fisheries that touch saltwater, including anadromous fish like salmon), and communities that depend on the fish. First Nations have a constitutional right to harvest fish for food, social, and ceremonial (FSC) purposes. That means that unlike a typical commercial or recreational fishing licence — a privilege DFO grants to harvesters — after conservation, the department must give First Nations fisheries for FSC purposes priority access to fish.Salmon stocks on the Fraser have tumbled in the past decade, leading Fisheries and Oceans Canada to severely limit harvesting on the river, including Indigenous food fisheries.

While DFO has allowed some FSC chinook salmon fishing this year, the openings are short — many are only a few hours long — and are scattered throughout the season. In September, DFO allowed some commercial fisheries for more plentiful pink salmon in coastal waters near the Fraser, despite criticism from environmental groups and First Nations over the potential impact on all salmon species migrating up the river, including scarce sockeye and chinook.

“You don’t play with fish. You don’t play with food.”

Murray Ned, executive director of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance

The department has also allowed limited recreational fishing for some salmon species on parts of the Fraser River and a few of its tributaries, even as Indigenous food fisheries along the river remain curtailed. It’s a frustration for Hope and other Indigenous people who believe the practice breaks important traditional laws, particularly with so few fish in the river.

“You don’t play with fish. You don’t play with food. That’s where there’s challenges seeing recreational fishers,” added Murray Ned, executive director of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, a coalition of 23 First Nations working to manage and restore their fisheries, who joined Hope by the river on this rainy day. While he has sympathy for sport fishers, many of whom he knows care for the fish and the river, their relationship to the salmon is incomparable to the deep ties between First Nations and salmon.

Ned is from the Sumas First Nation and like Hope, he has seen the annual FSC harvest dwindle in recent years. It’s a devastating blow that could easily get worse.

“If we go to a place where we don’t have any fish, we lose our complete cultural identity,” he said.

However, there is one thing upon which both anglers and First Nations agree: DFO is failing the salmon and the people who love and depend on them.

Salmon are scarce

Recent years have been rough for most B.C. salmon fisheries, with the number of salmon returning to the province hitting historic lows in 2020, especially some stocks on the Fraser River.In 2020, only 193,000 sockeye returned to spawn, the lowest number since records began.

In 2020, only 193,000 sockeye returned to spawn, the lowest number since records began. Of the 28 chinook salmon populations in southern B.C., nearly half are endangered, threatened, or at risk, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). While other salmon species are in better shape, the situation remains precarious.

In the face of the crisis, then federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan in June announced long-term closures on roughly 60 per cent of B.C.’s commercial salmon fisheries, including several that could impact Fraser River salmon migrating upriver to spawn. Recreational and FSC fisheries on the Fraser are also severely constrained.

Only 193 000 sockeye salmon returned to spawn in the Fraser River last year — by far the lowest number since records began. Other salmon runs across B.C. have also declined in recent years, prompting DFO in June to close the majority of the province’s commercial salmon fisheries. Photos: Sockeye salmon swimming upriver to spawn by Marco Tjokro / Unsplash. Sumas River, a tributary of the Fraser, by Jen Osborne / Canada’s National Observer

“What cannot be debated is that most wild Pacific salmon stocks continue to decline at unprecedented rates,” said Jordan in a June statement announcing the closures. “We are pulling the emergency brake to give these salmon the best chance at survival.”

But while climate change and habitat destruction are partially to blame for the low stocks, critics say the way DFO stewards salmon fisheries in B.C. is also responsible and that the department must change its ways.

When it comes to fish, DFO will listen to you, but thats about as far as it goes

What cannot be debated is that most wild Pacific salmon stocks continue to decline at unprecedented rates.

Former federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan

Ned and Hope want First Nations to have equal authority alongside DFO to manage their nations’ fisheries. As it stands, “(DFO) will listen to you, but that’s about as far as it goes,” said Ned.

Until First Nations achieve equal footing, it will be impossible to craft conservation measures that blend science and traditional knowledge to support the fish and culture. It’s a position the alliance said DFO has so far refused to accept.

That demand for autonomy echoes calls from Indigenous people across Canada for more control over natural resources on their lands in many sectors, including fish, forestry, and mining. While it is a position enshrined in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), on the ground, efforts to gain greater agency have led to clashes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and government officials.

What drives the disconnect that we’re seeing between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and many Indigenous peoples in this province and country is a deep sense of paternalism from DFO that stems from colonization.

Andrea Reid, professor at the University of British Columbia and Indigenous fisheries expert

In B.C., the Nuu-chah-nulth nations, a coalition of five First Nations on Vancouver Island, have waged a 15-year legal battle against DFO for the right to conduct and manage their own commercial fisheries, including developing strict conservation measures. They won their case several times, including before Canada’s Supreme Court, but the nations say DFO continues to resist giving them equal authority. And in Nova Scotia, observers say one of the factors that fuelled a violent conflict last year that saw non-Indigenous harvesters attack Mi’kmaq harvesters’ boats and fishing gear was DFO’s years-long reluctance to work with Indigenous governments as equals.

Both of these conflicts focused on the nations’ right to a commercial fishery, not a food fishery, which is for fish that can’t be sold. But the underlying themes are the same, says Andrea Reid, a professor at the University of British Columbia and an Indigenous fisheries expert.

(DFO) will listen to you, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Murray Ned, executive director of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance

“What drives the disconnect that we’re seeing between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and many Indigenous peoples in this province and country is a deep sense of paternalism from DFO that stems from colonization.”

The department refused an interview, citing the recent federal election. However, in a statement, it said, “First Nations are consulted on the management process for FSC fisheries throughout the Pacific Region, including the Fraser. DFO considers all input received from First Nations and, where possible, includes them in decision-making processes. This includes … factors such as starting times, gear types and methods, (and) fishing sites and areas.”

That’s similar to the level of consultation DFO conducts with sport fishers, Ned explained. And even they say it’s not enough.

Anglers say collaboration is key

Nathan Bootsma is a rarity among sport fishermen: The co-chair of the Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance (FRSA) is only 30 years old.

“I go to these (FRSA) meetings and I’m the youngest guy in the room every time,” he said, chuckling over the phone line. Fishing has always been his passion. He started as a kid, angling for trout and salmon in creeks in the B.C. Lower Mainland and his love for the sport has never waned.

Sport fishing is big business in B.C., worth more than $1 billion each year, according to the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. However, the fishing has been relatively sparse for anglers plying the Fraser River in recent years due to low numbers of returning salmon and steelhead trout. Photos: Fly-fishers casting their lines on a river in Alaska, where salmon are more plentiful, by Austin Neill / Unsplash. A rod waits for its owner by the Sumas River by Jen Osborne / Canada’s National Observer

I wouldn’t say it’s sport fishermen versus First Nations fishermen. It’s really all of us coming together.

Yet the past few seasons have been tough. While the September opening for pink salmon was a welcome surprise, sockeye salmon have been off-limits for years. There have also been only a few openings for chinook salmon in an effort to try to revive the stocks. With some of this year’s chinook salmon runs being stronger than expected, he acknowledged the limits have been frustrating but haven’t caused conflict on the water. If anything, they’ve proved fertile grounds for collaboration.

“I wouldn’t say it’s sport fishermen versus First Nations fishermen. It’s really all of us coming together — commercial, First Nations, and recreational fishermen — saying we need DFO to manage this resource better,” Bootsma said, noting the three groups are trying to create a coalition that would make it easier to negotiate with DFO on conservation measures and fisheries openings. First Nations should still have priority access to the fish, he added.

There’s a lot of talk about UNDRIP and reconciliation. They’re all words to me: Unless we see action, it’s lots of talk.

Murray Ned, executive director of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance

A central part of those efforts will be pushing the DFO to consider research and knowledge from sources outside the department, like third-party research of anglers’ observations of the fish, as it strives for conservation. Currently, DFO is reluctant to seriously consider external research or knowledge, despite regularly consulting sport fishers through a dedicated advisory group, the Sport Fishing Advisory Board, Bootsma said.

Without action, reconciliation is lots of talk

Changes could be on the horizon. In a June report on the crisis facing B.C. salmon, the federal Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recommended DFO “recognize the decision-making authority of First Nations and work with them on a nation-to-nation basis … to plan, implement, monitor, and evaluate salmon management from egg stage to spawning phase.”

As a teenager, Hope said she took her summers fishing for salmon and learning important skills and cultural knowledge for granted. Now, she wonders how her son will learn those same lessons with so few opportunities to get on the river and fish. Photos by Jen Osborne / Canada’s National Observer

The report called for broader changes within DFO that would require the department to “braid” traditional knowledge with Western science and create Indigenous guardian programs to support First Nations’ habitat restoration and salmon protection efforts. Future salmon restoration efforts should be primarily led locally, with extensive collaboration between DFO, sport and commercial fishers, and First Nations. Community fish hatcheries, which can boost the number of fish available for recreational and commercial fishing, should also be supported, the report noted.The report called for broader changes within DFO that would require the department to “braid” traditional knowledge with Western science and create Indigenous guardian programs.

Furthermore, DFO in May announced a new $647-million management approach for Pacific salmon. While the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative is still in development, the department earmarked funds to support habitat restoration, better collaboration, and a handful of other initiatives.

DFO could not comment on the report or any future changes to its management approach for Pacific salmon as Canada does not currently have a sitting federal government or fisheries minister.

“Everybody wants to maintain how they connect to salmon, which is very important,” said UBC’s Reid. “But when everyone is at this table and asking for their piece, we take this approach that’s perhaps too small for the scale of the problems, (and) I think we’re not finding solutions that are commensurate with that scale.”

Whether the plan will result in major changes remains to be seen. Over his career working to conserve salmon and Indigenous fisheries, Ned has heard countless federal fisheries ministers promise to transform DFO’s approach in the name of reconciliation. Yet despite years spent meeting with government officials, he said little has changed on the water.

“There’s a lot of talk about UNDRIP and reconciliation. They’re all words to me: Unless we see action, it’s lots of talk.”

See article here . . . . . . .

‘It’s amazing’: Chinook salmon are returning in surprising numbers to Cowichan River

September 29,2021 CHEK NEWS

https://player.zype.com/embed/6153b5804b1cb50001b5801d.html?api_key=wPVS5IQoMHNsQvfrGuKJ9spKSKCXxsjs0Bf1UVshCI5sUtrj&controls=true

Thousands of Chinook salmon have returned to spawn in the Cowichan River this fall, and biologists are hopeful that the run is bouncing back from near extinction in 2009.

“I like to catch fish,” said Greg Joseph Jr., 7, who scrambled for his dad’s fishing rod on the banks of the Cowichan River Tuesday, to reel in a Chinook salmon for his family’s smoker.

Fishing the Cowichan River is a tradition of fall that goes back generations in Cowichan Tribes. As spawning Chinook salmon are caught to feed the community through the winter.

“I love it. I get to teach my boys what my dad taught me,” said the boy’s father, Greg Joseph Sr.

But there was a real fear that the Chinook salmon run would go extinct as the Cowichan River filled with gravel over decades. Droughts further dried up stretches of it and heatwaves raised summer water temperatures, killing off fish. In 2009, the numbers dropped down to just 500 pairs of Chinook returning.

Yet, as of Tuesday, more than 8,000 Chinook had returned to their Cowichan River spawning grounds.

“I am just absolutely grateful that we have halted the decline that’s been happening since 2009. We were so, so close to actually losing Cowichan Chinook,” said fisheries biologist for Cowichan Tribes, Tim Kulchisky.

The improvement is the result of years of conservation efforts by Cowichan Tribes, who have worked to restore the river to its course before logging operations changed the river. During the 1880s and into the early 1990s, loggers used dynamite to blast dozens of waterfalls and rapids along the Cowichan River in an attempt to make it easier to move logs down the river.

“Falls and potential obstructions were basically dynamited to expedite log flow,” said Kulchisky.

According to Kulchisky, tonnes of gravel have been removed in 2021 to improve the flow of the river and shore up previous bends that were blown through, and promising returns of salmon showed it is helping.

“They’re much, much happier. There’s a definite relief,” he said.

sryan@cheknews.ca

See full article here……..

Salmon are getting cooked by climate change. Here’s how they could be saved

Emily Chung · CBC News · Jul 23, 2021

Both Pacific and Atlantic salmon at risk from climate change impacts, but habitat tweaks could help.

 CBC News · by Emily Chung Jul 23, 2021

A heat wave is expected to kill all juvenile chinook salmon in California’s Sacramento River, wildlife officials say. Meanwhile, climate change and extreme heat waves are hitting Canada’s salmon too, on both coasts.

So, how bad is it here, and what can be done to save our salmon? CBC News explains.

What’s happening to salmon in California?

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife warned last week that among chinook salmon in the Sacramento River “it is possible that all in-river juveniles will not survive this season.” That was due to a heat wave that pushed local temperatures above 37 C, combined with a drought that caused more water to be diverted to cities and farmers, making the river shallower and quick to heat up.

Has that kind of thing happened further north?

There are some reports of it happening amid this year’s record-breaking heat wave in B.C. The B.C. Wildlife Federation reports that the Okanagan River was more than 23 C this week, causing sockeye salmon to halt their migration.

“There’s a good chance the run will be … doomed by heat,” said Jesse Zeman, director of the federation’s fish and wildlife restoration program.

In 2016, warm temperatures were blamed for the lowest number of returning sockeye in B.C.’s Fraser River on record, and two years later, officials warned that the river was so warm that migrating sockeye salmon might die on their journey. In 2019, there were heat-related salmon die-offs blamed  in Alaska and at a fish farm in Newfoundland.

WATCH | Team surveys dead salmon on Alaska river:

Team surveys dead salmon on Alaska River

2 years ago A team from the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Alaska surveys dead chum salmon on the Koyukuk River in July. 

But salmon deaths due to heat aren’t necessarily sudden and noticeable. Many populations of both Pacific and Atlantic salmon have been in gradual decline for decades, and scientists say warmer temperatures and other aspects of climate change have played a role.

  • Atlantic salmon in eastern Cape Breton could be added to list of species at risk
  • New research suggests 70% decline in diversity of B.C. sockeye salmon stock in past century

How do warm temperatures harm or kill salmon?

Both Atlantic and Pacific salmon are cold-water fish, which means they tend to do best at temperatures in the mid-teens and struggle when it’s over 20 C.

Warm water can harm salmon in several ways. For one thing, warmer water holds less oxygen, making it harder for fish to breathe. Because they’re cold-blooded, they can’t adjust their body temperature relative to the environment when conditions get too warm or too cold. Warmer temperatures speed up their metabolism, causing them to require more oxygen and food, and also forcing them to swim to find cooler waters, consuming more energy.

The heat makes it harder for them to swim and can stress salmon migrating to their spawning grounds, said Sue Grant, head of the state of salmon program at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. As a result, some don’t survive to spawn, and those that do may produce less healthy offspring.

Are other impacts hurting salmon?

Yes. Besides extreme heat, climate change is causing drier conditions. Shrinking glaciers, smaller winter snowpacks and an earlier spring melt reduce the amount and depth of water in rivers, causing them to heat up more quickly, said Aaron Hill, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

“By the late summer, rivers are running low and becoming lethally hot for salmon,” he said.

Glacier melt in B.C. at ‘shocking’ levels

During droughts, humans also divert more water to cities and farmers, leaving less in the rivers — one of the big problems in California’s Sacramento River, but also in water-stressed parts of B.C., such as the Interior and the east coast of Vancouver Island.

People are also taking too much groundwater that would otherwise cool streams as it seeps into them gradually, Hill said.

Deforestation from wildfires, pests such as mountain pine beetle and clearcut logging have increased erosion and landslides that can damage spawning grounds or block salmon migration to those spawning grounds.  

“It’s just this compounding, interacting set of impacts, both natural and human caused,” Hill said.

But it’s not just in rivers that salmon face challenges, as they spend much of their life at sea. There, they also face marine heat waves, such as the one dubbed “the blob,” which raised temperatures along the Pacific coast by 3 to 5 C from 2013 until now, said Grant. That has altered the food web, replacing the large, fatty northern zooplankton that salmon normally eat with less nutritious zooplankton from the south.

“Animals that are feeding on these poor-quality animals at the base of the food web will grow more slowly,” Grant said. “They’ll be more vulnerable to predation.”

A new “blob” is brewing, and it’s set to seriously impact marine life off B.C.’s coast

2 years ago A new marine heat wave spreading across a portion of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia has so far grown into one of the largest of its kind in the last four decades, officials say, second only to the infamous “blob” that disrupted marine life five years ago. 

Atlantic salmon face similar impacts in the northwest Atlantic, where fish from all populations from both North America and Europe grow into adults.

“That’s having a big impact on sea survival,” Crabbe said, noting that fewer adults have been returning to Canada to spawn since the early 1990s.  

Are all salmon vulnerable?

Some are more vulnerable than others. On the Pacific coast, chinook are doing particularly poorly, declining in numbers, size and reproductive rate throughout their range, from California to Alaska, said Grant, lead author of a 2019 report on how Pacific salmon are doing.

Pink and chum, species that spend less time in freshwater, where temperature changes are more extreme, were doing better than chinook, coho and sockeye. Grant said pink and chum did see some decline in 2019 and 2020, after the report was published. 

With Atlantic salmon, the young are particularly vulnerable, said Emily Corey, a PhD candidate at the University of New Brunswick, has been studying the effects of heat stress on juvenile Atlantic salmon.

She points to three main reasons why the young are more at risk:

  • They spend the first three to five years of their lives in freshwater, where temperatures can get more extreme.
  • They don’t swim very well.
  • They tend to be territorial, so they don’t like to move to a new location unless they have to.

That said, her research has found that some can move up to several kilometres to find cold water if necessary.

What is being done to reduce impact of extreme heat on salmon?

In June, the federal government announced the $647.1 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative. It includes several kinds of solutions. Many are also targeted at Atlantic salmon under other programs:

Conservation and stewardship

This involves habitat monitoring and restoration, some of the goals of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society and the Atlantic Salmon Federation and its partners. 

In Nova Scotia, the Margaree Salmon Association has installed water temperature monitors in the Margaree and Mabout rivers to help find hot spots. When they’re found, work crews will do things such as plant trees to shade the river at those locations.

In New Brunswick, the Miramichi Salmon Association has been enhancing pools of cold water along the river by diverting the river’s flow to carve them out and make them bigger. 

On both coasts, conservationists say better land use planning and targeting salmon habitat for protection and reforestation will have a big impact. In New Brunswick, the ASF is working with the provincial government to protect the most-critical cold water springs and brooks feeding into important salmon rivers such as the Miramichi.

In B.C., Hill says there are huge swaths of great potential salmon habitat throughout the Fraser River watershed that have been blocked by structures such as culverts and road crossings. It’s possible to replace those with alternatives that will allow salmon to use that habitat.

Meanwhile, in drier areas, Hill says better water planning is needed, along with licensing and regulating groundwater use, which hasn’t yet been implemented by the provincial government.

  • Some B.C. restaurants remove wild salmon from menu in response to declining stocks
  • Drought danger grows as some parts of B.C. see no rain for almost 5 weeks

Changes, closures to fisheries and harvest

This is one happening on both coasts. In late June, the federal government closed 60 per cent of commercial salmon fisheries in B.C. and Yukon to conserve stocks. Most recreational fisheries for Fraser chinook have also faced widespread closures since 2019

Many Atlantic salmon commercial fisheries have also closed. In 2018, the Atlantic Salmon Federation struck a 12-year deal with partners in Iceland and Greenland to ban commercial fishing on the west coast of Greenland and in the Faroe Islands. Already, more salmon seem to be returning to Canada, Crabbe said.

WATCH | Atlantic salmon returned from the ocean in greater numbers last year:

Atlantic salmon returned from the ocean in greater numbers last year

2 months ago Biologists find glimmer of hope in year of higher Atlantic salmon numbers. 

Important cold water pools in the Miramichi River system in N.B. are typically closed to recreational fishing when the water temperature exceeds 20 C, Crabbe added. In 2018, there were almost 60 days like that.

Stocking programs. Enhanced hatchery production is one of the solutions in the federal Pacific salmon strategy. In California, officials aim to save some Sacramento River chinook by trucking them to a hatchery. Hill said there are some desperate situations that call for that kind of response. But in general, it’s controversial, as there’s evidence hatchery-raised salmon are less fit to survive than their wild counterparts.

  • Thousands of salmon fry released in B.C. river to restore populations devastated by Big Bar landslide
  • Captive rearing can accidentally change animals so they may not survive in the wild

Could salmon go extinct due to climate change?

“No one’s worried that they’re all going to disappear,” Grant said.

They do seem to be adapting to climate change to some extent. Both Atlantic and Pacific salmon are being found further north, and some northern populations are doing well. But some populations could disappear, especially in the south, and the loss will be felt by communities with deep and strong connections to salmon, both Crabbe and Grant say.

“They’re really critical, critically important to the indigenous people of Western Canada for food, social, ceremonial reasons, and also really play a big role in fisheries,” Grant said. “They’re embedded in the culture … probably to all Canadians.”

Please see full article here . . . . .

New way to report possible fishing violations to DFO

Ladysmith Chronicle – Sep. 16, 2019

DFO Pacific’s Conservation and Protection branch has a new email to receive report and photos.

There’s a new way for eyewitnesses to report suspected fishing violations to DFO fishery officers.

Conservation and Protection, DFO’s enforcement arm, has set up a new direct email address for members of the public to send in reports, photos, and videos.

“DFO Pacific Region has just added a new enforcement tool for members of the public to report suspicious fishing activity and suspected violations,” according to the news release.

The new email is: DFO.ORR-ONS.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

The email goes directly to fishery officers through the Observe, Record, Report (ORR) system which already features a toll-free hotline for calls.

But this will add the option of sending digital files.

Pacific Streamkeepers Federation had this to say on social media about the idea: “We’ve been asking for this and now (drum roll please) it has happened.”

Biologist Mike Pearson of Pearson Ecological also welcomes the move.

“This is great to see, if long overdue,” Pearson stated about the new DFO email.

It means people can email what’s going on in the field.

“This is an important addition to the existing hotline in that it enables people to send in photos of violations and to retain a permanent record of the report in the form of a sent email,” Pearson said.

“The Province should set up something similar with their RAPP line.”

As part of the work done by DFO fishery officers to end illegal activity, members of public are asked to send detailed information about possible violations any contravention of the Fisheries Act and regulations.

Witnesses can also call the toll-free line, Observe, Record, Report (ORR) at 1-800-465-4336 to make a report by phone.

See full article here . . . . .

DFO shuts most B.C. fisheries in desperate effort to save salmon

June 29, 2021 – National Observer by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson 

Commercial salmon fishing will be closed in most of coastal B.C. this year and into the foreseeable future to save the West Coast’s critically low fish stocks, the federal government announced Tuesday.

Nearly 60 per cent of the province’s commercial salmon fisheries, once the economic and cultural backbone of the B.C. coast, will be forced to shutter in 2021, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) said. Yukon salmon rivers will also be closed to all commercial fishing in 2021, while recreational fisheries in both Yukon and B.C. will be restricted. Many of B.C.’s coastal fisheries will likely not reopen to commercial harvesting for years in an attempt to revive the province’s dwindling salmon populations.

“No fisheries minister wants to make these kinds of decisions, because they’re very difficult and impact people’s livelihoods,” said federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan. “(But) no fisheries minister wants to be the minister when the stock collapses, and that’s where we are right now with Pacific salmon — it’s a stock on the verge of collapse. If we don’t do everything we can, we won’t have salmon.”

Pacific salmon are in a long-term decline, with many runs verging on collapse as they struggle to survive climate change, habitat destruction and overfishing. Last year saw the lowest global salmon catch since 1982, according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, an international organization protecting wild salmon and other fish.

The province’s salmon harvesters — many of them independent and nearing retirement — are also struggling after years of dangerously low catches, according to a report published by the United Fish and Allied Workers Union this spring.

To compensate harvesters for the loss, DFO is creating a program to buy back commercial fishing licences from fish harvesters in an effort to permanently decrease the size of the West Coast salmon fleet. In 2019, DFO issued 1,582 commercial fishing licences for West Coast salmon, according to Statistics Canada.

Under the program, fish harvesters will be able to sell their licences back to the government at market value. Financially depleted after years of bad harvests, these licence buybacks will be many harvesters’ main retirement income, noted Tasha Sutcliffe, senior adviser for community fisheries at Ecotrust Canada.

First Nations communities that hold one of 127 communal commercial licences will be able to shift to fishing techniques less-damaging to salmon or use the licences to catch other healthy commercial species, like halibut.

“Some First Nations do harvest commercially, but they’re coming to the realization that something needs to be done to preserve our stocks,” said Chief Dalton Silver, fisheries representative for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Salmon are key to food security and cultural well-being for many Indigenous people in the province. Preserving them is essential, even if it impacts First Nations’ commercial fisheries, he said.

“I think a lot of our people would feel better if there was a complete halt to the commercial aspect of the fishery (to) allow the stocks to rebuild,” he said, noting that while not all Indigenous people agree entirely with that position, it is becoming more commonplace.

“It’s incredibly sad,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch, an organization working to bring back B.C.’s salmon. “When we see a fishery closure, it’s a collective failure of all of us to manage our salmon and fisheries better over the last decades (to) avoid such drastic measures and their social and economic consequences.”

Commercial salmon fishing will be closed in most of coastal B.C., the federal government announced Tuesday. #Salmon #BC

It is essential the licence buyback program adequately supports fish harvesters who have seen their livelihoods disappear, said Hill. Overfishing is only one of the factors driving the species’ decline, with climate change, open-pen fish farms and habitat destruction also to blame.

“The salmon crisis is not the fault of working fishermen,” he explained.

Looking ahead, he hopes this decision will make a profound shift in how salmon is managed and harvested in B.C. That means moving to fishing techniques that increase the market value of each fish while reducing the overall environmental impact of commercial fishing.

For example, fishing by troll — a technique that relies on hooks and line — or harvesting fish once they reach their spawning river can send higher-quality fish to market with less ecological impact. Techniques that help harvesters only retain fish from the healthiest runs, like genetic testing, could also help make any future fisheries more sustainable, he said.

Silver added that fisheries management also needs to be overhauled to better integrate Indigenous knowledge.

“I’ve always said that if (Indigenous people) were involved from the very beginning, upon contact, with the management of our resources, we’d all be in a lot better place today,” he said. It’s an approach that has gained significant attention recently thanks to several researchers and its adoption by global seafood ranking organization Ocean Wise this spring.

DFO has committed to working with First Nations to revive the salmon, said Jordan, Canada’s fisheries minister. The ministry will also work with fish harvesters, environmental groups and other organizations to bring the fish back.

“There’s no one thing that’s going to solve the problem, but if we don’t start taking these measures now, there’s going to be no salmon to protect,” she said. “I think we have a moment in time, and that window is closing. I think if we don’t do this now, it will be too late — but I still think we have the ability to make a difference.”

See article here . . . . .

Ottawa to close about 60 per cent of commercial salmon fisheries to conserve stocks

Jun 29, 2021  – The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The federal government says it will close several commercial Pacific salmon fisheries in British Columbia and Yukon beginning this season to conserve fish stocks that are on the “verge of collapse.” 

The Fisheries Department said in a news release Tuesday that 79 of 138 commercial and First Nations communal fisheries will be affected, which amounts to about 60 per cent.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said these closures will reduce immediate pressure on fragile stocks that have drastically declined.

“We’re seeing a decline in the stock runs, in some cases up to 90 per cent,” she said in an interview.

“And, you know, we need to do everything we can to conserve the species.”

The government’s announcement follows plans for the distribution of nearly $650 million earmarked for the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative. The plan will guide work on conservation, better hatchery production, an overhaul of fish harvesting methods and improve the collaboration of fisheries management. 

The closures are intended to increase the number of salmon reaching spawning areas, specifically sockeye, pink and chum stocks.

Watershed Watch Salmon Society, a conservation group, called the move a “bold, necessary and courageous step.” 

“I think it stops the bleeding,” said Greg Taylor, the society’s fisheries adviser.

“I think it’s something that we have to start. We have to increase the number of fish returning to their spawning grounds. We don’t have time.” 

Jordan said the decline in fish stocks is because of a number of factors, including climate change, habitat degradation and the massive Big Bar landslide in the Fraser River. 

“I mean, it’s not all about overfishing,” she said.

“There is going to be no silver bullet that saves the salmon stock. It’s got to be an all-hands-on-deck approach.” 

The United Fishermen & Allied Workers’ Union said the closure of 79 salmon fisheries has left them “worried” about the future of commercial operations.

“Today’s closure announcements are deeply concerning,” Emily Orr, UFAWU-Unifor business agent, said in a statement.

“The abruptness of the announcement, and lack of transparency for how these specific closures were decided, have blindsided harvesters.” 

While a licence retirement program is needed, she said it is only one part of a multi-pronged approach that is required.

“We need habitat restoration and investments in hatcheries,” she added.

Andrew Trites, director of the marine mammal research unit at the University of British Columbia, said the closure of commercial fisheries will make a “huge difference” for small runs of salmon that are struggling to survive.

Each river has its own population of salmon where some are OK while others are in “real trouble,” he said.

“The problem is that when you’re fishing, you don’t know which river it’s coming from,” Trites said.

“And so you get strong runs mixed in with weak runs, and it has a much bigger effect on the small populations.”

Data from the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission shows that the global catch of Pacific salmon in 2020 was the lowest since 1982. 

But the measures announced Tuesday will not produce immediate results because fish stocks may need multiple generations to stabilize and rebuild, Jordan noted.

“We may not see actual increases in the stock for a number of years, before we actually see that these measures are working,” she said.

“But we can’t wait because they’re at a point now where if we don’t do something now, there will be no fishery to have for generations to come.”

See article here . . . . .

Greg Taylor: 2021 salmon forecast amongst widespread closures

July 2, 2021 – Watershed Watch Salmon Society by Greg Taylor

I sit here heartbroken. This week, as I put together my annual salmon forecast, the fisheries minister’s announced she intends to close—for the long-term—most of B.C.’s commercial salmon fisheries. It is a bold and courageous decision, made necessary by the cascading impacts of the climate emergency on salmon and the ecosystems they inhabit. But it is also a declaration of past failures: failure to implement our highly-regarded national policies; failure to manage fisheries sustainably; and failure to make the difficult decisions when it most counted.

Climate emergency has forced gut-wrenching decisions

Tragically, commercial fishers will pay the price for our collective failure to address climate change, to adapt forest, land-use and water management practices in recognition of climate change and cumulative impacts, and to manage fisheries with precaution and according to established national and international policies.

I began my career co-managing a fleet of 80+ Indigenous gillnetters. By mid-career, I was managing a culturally and socially diverse fleet of 250+ gillnetters and 80 seiners. My fishermen came from communities throughout B.C.; from isolated First Nations communities such as Gitwangak, Gitanyow, and Alert Bay; from historical coastal communities such as Sointula; and from fishing-oriented lower mainland communities such as Ladner and Steveston. They were Indigenous, Japanese, Croatian, Norwegian, Icelandic, and from about every other settler community. They were our history; who we were as a province, and what made us who we are today. Everyone worked together, side by side, to harvest and process the bounty of salmon we enjoyed. In many ways, they were the best of who we want to be today.

I feel the heavy burden of guilt and sorrow for having failed them. 

The fisheries minister has promised to compensate fishers who want to leave the fishery through a licence retirement program. Since the minister has closed most of the fishery, the majority will likely want, and need, to get out. It is our obligation to make sure the compensation for fishers is robust and equitable. Their industry has been ravaged by the climate emergency and they require support to adjust.

Just as importantly, the resources for this compensation cannot come from the $647 million the minister promised for salmon conservation and restoration. We owe it to our salmon, and to these hard-working people, that every dollar of the $647 million is dedicated to recovering our salmon populations. The last series of licence retirements, ending in 1997, cost $460 million in 2021 dollars. Taking this money from the resources promised for salmon recovery would be pouring salt into our fishers’ wounds.

This 2021 salmon forecast may be my last one after some 35 years, for who needs forecasts if there are no fisheries? Although it captures why this bold action was necessary, please read closely. Our salmon are still out there, in streams throughout our province. Their numbers and diversity are a shadow of what they once were, but salmon are highly adaptable and given half a chance, they will recover. We owe it to our fishermen to see that they do. 

2021 B.C. salmon update and forecast

Nass River sockeye are forecast to return below average. Very early indications are that the run is below forecast. This fishery has been closed as part of the minister’s announcement.

Skeena River sockeye are expected to also be below average, but at a level that will support some mixed-stock gillnet and seine fisheries. (This fishery is one of the few in the province that will remain open). It is much too early in the return to provide a projection. The forecast is dependent on a strong five-year-old return as the four-year-old return is expected to be weak.

Nass pink returns are expected to be poor, but this is a fishery where we could have a surprise. (It is another fishery which will remain open). Alaskan managers are expecting a better year for Southeast Alaskan pinks based on fry out-migration surveys, and our far north B.C. pink streams often follow along. In addition, cooler ocean temperatures often lead B.C. salmon to migrate more directly to their spawning areas, avoiding some of the interception fisheries in Alaska. This can benefit other northern B.C. species as well. Unfortunately, Nass pinks co-migrate with northern chum, Chinook, coho, steelhead, and sockeye, all expected to be weak relative to their management objectives. While these species must be discarded alive, which can be a successful strategy using seine gear if the fishery is well-monitored, DFO does not require the same level of independent compliance monitoring of these fisheries as it does for groundfish, halibut and other important B.C. fisheries. 

Skeena pinks have collapsed over the past couple of decades and are expected to have a very poor return. The same with Skeena chums.

Nass Chinook and coho are expected to return at lower than desired levels. 

Skeena Chinook have declined—like so many other chinook populations from California through to Alaska—to where they are expected to return at critically low levels. Early indications suggest things might actually be worse than forecast. An active marine guide/outfitter mixed-stock fishery based out of Prince Rupert remains open. The in-river Chinook fishery enjoyed by locals is likely to be closed. Skeena coho returns are forecast to be poor. (After FSC, 95 per cent of B.C.’s Chinook and coho are allocated to the recreational fishery). 

Very high water levels in both the Nass and Skeena, and likely other rivers around the province, caused by the recent unprecedented heatwave, are making it difficult to estimate numbers of returning fish.

Area 6 pink salmon (Douglas Channel and its coastal approaches) are forecast to return below average. This population may see a better return if productivity is better than projected and they manage to avoid Alaskan interception fisheries. However, good fishing for Area 6 pinks would not be good news for the depressed wild chum and other stocks that co-migrate with the pinks and get caught as bycatch. This is another fishery that escaped the closure of most other B.C. commercial fisheries. Managers and fishers need to be aware that if they don’t improve the compliance monitoring in this fishery, it too will be in jeopardy.

Central Coast wild chum returns are generally expected to be poor. Enhanced chum returns from the Snootli Hatchery in Area 8 (Bella Coola) are expected to be average. Production of these hatchery chum complicated management because mixed-stock fisheries in Area 8 often over-harvested wild chums and under-harvested the enhanced chums. This fishery had a significant bearing on B.C.’s loss of Marine Stewardship Council eco-certification for our salmon fisheries. This fishery is now closed.

West coast of Vancouver Island (WCVI) may be interesting this year. A low to average sockeye return is forecast for Barkley Sound allowing for some fishing by all sectors and gear types. But a hot dry summer may derail the fishing season as warm water can lead to high pre-spawn mortalities; something managers will have to consider. Enhanced chums could have supported fisheries in several areas in the fall, some of which may have been quite productive. But these fisheries were part of the closure announcement. Enhanced Chinook will also likely support directed fisheries adjacent to hatcheries. Wild WCVI chinook populations are classified as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC; a federally mandated science body).

East Coast of Vancouver Island (ECVI) fisheries are dominated by hatchery production. Many wild populations—other than pinks—are classified as endangered or threatened. There should be average returns of enhanced chums to most major systems. Other than the limited Johnstone Strait mixed-stock fishery, these tend to be harvested in near-terminal commercial fisheries. These fisheries are now closed. Enhanced ECVI chinook, on the other hand, are harvested along with endangered ECVI chinook populations in mixed-stock recreational fisheries throughout the Strait of Georgia. These fisheries, being recreational, remain open. There should be some good recreational pink fishing opportunities in the southern portions of the ECVI. The fascinating outlier to most other ECVI streams producing wild salmon is the Cowichan River. It should continue to see average returns of wild chums, chinook, and even steelhead in 2021. This deserves an article unto itself as its success may point the way towards how we might conserve and recover salmon in the future.

Fraser River sockeye are divided into four management groups: Early Stuart, Early Summer, Summer, and Late. Within each management group are numerous distinct populations with divergent productivity and run-timing. And the migration timing of the four management groups overlap each other. It’s like an immense jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces quite fit with one another. Recent environmental trends have reduced productivity and increased forecast uncertainty for most component populations and the Big Bar slide still hovers large over this year’s return. Given the inherent management complexity, and that several populations have been declared endangered, it is little wonder that this commercial fishery has been closed for all gear types (gillnet, seine, troll), including for First Nations. The wonder is that we were arrogant enough, at least in recent times when productivity was low and risk was high, to think it was ever possible to mount sustainable mixed-stock fisheries on Fraser sockeye.

Fraser pink salmon are forecast to return at low levels in 2021. There is the potential for the return to be better than predicted. This is because if there is any improvement in marine conditions, as many indicators suggest, it is pink salmon—which have a two-year life cycle—that will show the benefits first. Further, the 2021 pink forecast has little good data to support it. Because of COVID, the fry out-migration in 2020 was not monitored, and the 2019 escapements were poorly assessed. This fishery is now closed to all commercial gear types.

Fraser chums returning this fall are forecast to return below their management objective. The forecast is based on the poor 2017 escapements and continued poor environmental conditions for salmon generally. This fishery was part of the closure announcement.

Fraser Chinook are grouped into Fraser 4-2s, Spring and Summer 5-2s, Fraser 4-1s and Fall 4-1s. The difference is Chinook designated with a ‘2’ spend their first year after hatching in freshwater before migrating to the ocean. The forecast for 4-2s and 5-2s is very poor. The 4-2 migration peaks in June in the Fraser River. The 5-2 migration peaks in late July. However, there is considerable overlap because, similar to Fraser sockeye, each of these stock groupings consists of multiple component populations with varied productivity and migration timing. Hence, you will find 4-2 and 5-2 Fraser Chinook both returning between March and mid-August. Both stock groupings are classified as endangered by COSEWIC. These fish are encountered in mixed-stock marine recreational fisheries from southwest Vancouver Island seaward of Barkley Sound through to the Fraser River, very limited in-river First Nations Treaty and Food fisheries, and by IUU (Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated) fisheries in the Fraser River. There is next to no commercial harvest of these populations because they tend to migrate directly in from the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The forecast for these stock groupings is very poor. Current assessments suggest they are returning even less than forecast. Many of these populations are also impacted by the Big Bar slide. Recreational fisheries impacting these populations continue.

Fraser 4-1 Chinook are forecast to be abundant and will likely support commercial, First Nations, and recreational fisheries from the Alaska border through to their spawning grounds in and around the Thompson and Shuswap Rivers and their tributaries. Their migration timing is from mid-July to mid-September. These fish spawn in rivers that enter the Fraser below the Big Bar slide and therefore remain unaffected by it. 

Fraser Fall 4-1s are the only Fraser Chinook with a biologically-based escapement goal (the number of fish required to make it back to the spawning grounds). Unlike Alaska, or the southern states, DFO does not have biologically-based escapement goals for most salmon populations. Alaskan managers are mandated by the state’s constitution to ensure escapement goals are achieved for salmon returning to Alaskan rivers. Canada does not employ the same rigour. The reason Fraser Fall 4-1s have an escapement goal is that they are managed by the Pacific Salmon Treaty between Canada and the U.S. Fraser Fall 4-1s have not achieved their escapement goal for a decade and Canada is under considerable pressure to address its failure on the issue. These Chinook are important contributors to the marine mixed-stock recreational and First Nations food and treaty fisheries. They are not harvested by commercial fisheries and are therefore not included in the commercial closures announced by the minister. Fall 4-1s migrate into the Fraser River from mid-August to mid-November, peaking in late September through early October. As these populations spawn in the lower Fraser River and its tributaries, they are not impacted by the Big Bar slide.

Interior Fraser coho are classified as threatened. They return from late August through September and are therefore vulnerable to being encountered in any mixed-stock recreational or commercial fishery along their migratory path. Canadian total mortalities are limited to 3 per cent but monitoring and assessments are poor. There is limited data on lower Fraser coho but their status is of growing concern for First Nations in the area.

Steelhead returning to the Thomson and Chilcotin Rivers are past being endangered. They are on the cusp of being extirpated. DFO managers have suppressed scientific advice on commercial fishery impacts on steelhead. All fisheries that may have indirectly killed Thompson steelhead were closed by the minister’s announcement.

See full article here . . . .

Wild salmon in hot water

July 15th, 2021 – Watershed Watch Salmon Society

After a record-breaking heatwave, and with continuing drought and wildfires across the province, B.C.’s wild salmon are in extreme danger. And there’s a lot more that our governments could do to defend our salmon from these impacts of global warming.

In B.C., 32 populations of Chinook, sockeye and steelhead are now listed as “endangered” or “threatened” by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, with many more who deserve to be added to the list.

Many of these endangered salmon swim home to water-stressed parts of the province, including the Thompson River and its tributaries, and the east coast of Vancouver Island where over-extraction and scarcity of water during droughts is a serious problem. 

Many people think of super-natural B.C. as having limitless fresh water. Unfortunately, that is simply not true. Across the province, over 60% of British Columbians live in water-stressed areas. With a growing population and a warming climate, the stress on our rivers and salmon is only going to get worse.

For salmon populations already impacted by multiple threats including pollution, loss of habitats, diseases from salmon farms, inbreeding of hatchery fish, and poorly managed fisheries, low flows and rising water temperatures may be too much to bear.

So what can be done?

Besides addressing our greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, the most important thing we can do to give wild salmon a chance to survive extreme drought conditions is to get more water flowing in our rivers and streams. 

We have a law which gives the Province the power and mandate to regulate water use for nature as well as people, the 2016 Water Sustainability Act. Now we need the Province to get serious about implementing it. In the five years since this much-improved version of B.C.’s water law was passed, only a small fraction of its provisions have been put into effect. For example, the B.C. government is about to miss their own deadline for licensing and regulating groundwater use, which has major impacts on nearby salmon streams.

That’s why Watershed Watch, in partnership with other allies, launched CodeBlue BC, a plan to secure and sustain B.C.’s fresh water sources for generations to come.

The CodeBlue BC plan has three parts:

  1. Get tough on water wasters and polluters. Good resource development should never degrade our watersheds, or waste our fresh water. Tougher rules, better enforcement, and stronger penalties will make resource companies clean up their act.
  2. Make big industrial users pay. Our water is priceless, and most British Columbians agree it should never be sold. However, B.C.’s system of water licences lets big industry pay pennies to use our water, while British Columbians are stuck cleaning up the messes they leave behind. This needs to change: it’s time to make industrial users pay the true cost of using B.C.’s water.
  3. Give local people control over local water sources. B.C.’s water sources should be owned and managed by the people who know them best and need them most. By providing local people with the funding, training and authority to look after their water sources, we can create surge of good jobs in every corner of B.C.

It’s time we start treating our watersheds like our lives depend on them. 

Read the plan. Add your voice to CodeBlue BC and help us pressure Premier Horgan to protect B.C.’s fresh water, wild salmon and the watersheds we all depend on.

See full article here. . . . . .

Decades of cuts to salmon monitoring leave B.C. scientists uncertain of fish populations

February 18, 2021 – The Narwhal by Matt Simmons,

For 40 years, Doug Stewart coordinated his movements with spawning salmon on B.C.’s north coast, climbing up creeks to count the fish as they returned from the ocean.

His job as a creekwalker — a contract salmon monitoring gig for Fisheries and Oceans Canada — took him places no one would think fish could reach, he told The Narwhal. One November, after wading through a frozen lake with his canoe in tow, he followed a creek up through a frozen meadow and counted coho in slow-flowing pools covered with thin ice.

“It was something that’ll stick in my head forever. Those are the kinds of things that keep drawing you back.”

When Stewart reluctantly retired in 2016, no one took over for him, leaving an area of about 17,000 square kilometres to the last remaining creekwalker in the region. “Even when there was two of us, we still weren’t doing the job properly,” he said.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been hiring creekwalkers to count salmon returning to natal streams along the Pacific coast since 1940. These creekwalkers provide essential information about populations, which is used to inform fisheries management decisions, including how many salmon can be caught for commercial or recreational purposes.

However, decades of budget cuts have greatly reduced the number of creekwalkers and the number of streams being monitored, while wild salmon populations have been declining. Critics say the data collected by creekwalkers is needed to make good fisheries management decisions.

“From a conservation perspective, we need this information to assess the health of populations,” Michael Price, a salmon researcher at Simon Fraser University, told The Narwhal in an interview. “We can’t accurately make fisheries decisions when we don’t know how many fish are coming back.”

PacificWild, a conservation organization focused on the Great Bear Rainforest, recently launched a campaign to call attention to the declining number of creekwalkers on the north and central coast and what that means for salmon.

In 1949, there were 150 creekwalkers monitoring the north coast; by the late 1970s there were 40 and now there are just two, according to research by the organization. PacificWild has also found that only 215 of 2,500 spawning streams on the central and north coast are being counted. That’s about a 70 per cent decrease since the 1980s, when around 1,500 of those streams were monitored.

PacificWild does not have data on how many creekwalkers are monitoring streams on the south coast nor how many streams there are being monitored.

According to research by Price and others, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has continually cut funding for monitoring since the 1980s. When Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced a wild salmon policy in 2005, which prioritized the conservation of Pacific salmon and acknowledged a need to preserve biological diversity, conservation scientists expected the department would increase monitoring efforts.

“That was Objective 1: to identify populations that we need to protect in perpetuity,” Price said. Yet, the decline continued.

In the absence of data collected by creekwalkers, Fisheries and Oceans Canada estimates B.C. salmon populations by counting the fish at just a few sites in larger systems, doing aerial surveys and tagging fish at downstream locations and creating a population model based on how many show up farther inland.

But according to Price, the accuracy of those estimates can be off by as much as 50 per cent and it’s impossible to know what’s happening to individual populations without monitoring streams.

Price added that without “boots on the ground,” the data lacks critical context.

“If we’re just flying over and looking at the spawning reach of a system, and not literally walking up the entire system, you don’t know if there are blockages in the system, or disease events, or pre-spawn mortality because the water temperatures were high, or big predation years.”

Price said creekwalkers carry irreplaceable knowledge of the spawning sites they visit year after year. This informs a deeper understanding of anomalies and fluctuations in salmon returns, which in turn informs fisheries management.

For example, Stewart said there was an unexpected large early return of pink salmon to the glacial-fed freshwater systems in the region last year. Fisheries and Oceans Canada decided to open the commercial fisheries, but because the decision was not informed by creekwalkers’ knowledge, it resulted in an error that left many creeks without enough fish to sustain the populations.

“Without the patrolmen out there, the department wasn’t able to realize that this wasn’t going to be a continuous thing through all the systems,” he said. “They actually overfished because they didn’t realize that the secondary [returns], what we call the fall pinks, weren’t coming. You’ve got to have people in the field to see so that you can actually make good management decisions.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada declined an interview request and was unable to provide any information.

Price gave credit to Fisheries and Oceans Canada for erring on the side of caution by dramatically limiting the commercial and sport fisheries over the past few years, but added that increasing data could only have a positive impact.

“If we had more information, I would like to believe that we would make more informed decisions,” he said. “But right now, we are flying blind.”

When Stewart retired, the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation started counting spawning salmon in around 15 of the 150 streams in his former monitoring area. They receive a small amount of funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and share their data with the department.

Kitasoo/Xai’xais fisheries director Larry Greba said they’re trying to cover a handful of streams that are representative of other streams.

“In the absence of that information, you have no idea what’s going on with stocks,” he said. “Unfortunately, in some cases they seem to be going — I hate to use the word — extinct. We’ve got a number of systems in the area that have just gone to next to nothing.”

But Greba said he’d like to see Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan allocate more resources for Indigenous monitoring programs and said her recent mandate letter from the prime minister, which calls for the development of a Pacific salmon strategy, offers a glimmer of hope.

Other coastal nations, including the Heiltsuk and Gitga’at, have similarly started monitoring streams in the absence of Fisheries and Oceans Canada programs. Fraser Los, communications coordinator for the Coastal Stewardship Network, told The Narwhal in an email that efforts are underway to standardize the methods of data collection and make sure they’re compatible with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Los said Coastal First Nations are working on digitizing data collection as part of a regional monitoring system.

Price agreed that coordinating monitoring methods is key and added that increasing our knowledge of how many fish are out there doesn’t have to be a huge investment.

“It’s not rocket science. It just takes those adventurous individuals that would like to tramp up streams and count fish.”

The federal and provincial governments have earmarked more than $140 million for salmon conservation programs through the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, including some monitoring programs.

B.C. Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Aquaculture Fin Donnelly said the province is committed to working with the federal government and First Nations.

“I think there’s a recognition that we have to do things differently,” he said. “We have to be innovative, we have to work together and collaborate, and we need action now.”

He said the province has started to fund Indigenous guardian programs to help address the problem, citing a $7.3 million investment in the Broughton archipelago, where Minister Jordan recently decided to phase out open-net pen salmon farms by 2022. He said the funding includes support for monitoring programs.

Biologist Alexandra Morton suggested creating a new senior position within Fisheries and Oceans Canada to coordinate this collaboration.

“We need a director of wild salmon.”

While many populations are on the brink of extinction, Morton said salmon can survive given the chance. “The ocean and the rivers can still make fish. People should not give up.”

Stewart saw what was at stake last summer while anchored with his family in a “gin-clear” river where he used to see around 60,000 chum and 60,000 pink salmon returning every year. He estimated only about 500 chum returned last year.

“We’re watching this sow grizzly with two cubs, and there’s no pinks available yet so she’s hunting chums. And I mean she’s stalking them.”

He chuckled and said she was pretty good at it, but added there were probably another dozen grizzlies in the area all trying to catch the fish.

“All of a sudden you don’t have enough chum in that system to supply the bears and to supply the future stock of chums,” he said. “The bears are getting what they can get and you’re hoping like hell [the fish] at least got a few eggs into the gravel before they became bear protein.”

See full article here . . . . . . . .

How global warming is affecting B.C. salmon

(A recap of DFO’s annual State of the Salmon assessment) Watershed Watch Salmon Society

February 11, 2021

Many factors contribute to the decline of wild salmon in B.C. Habitat destruction, harvest, and bad aquaculture practices are all negative impacts, but the effect global warming has on salmon populations will be widespread, long-lasting and irreversible without urgent action. 

DFO recently released a preliminary report on predicted salmon returns for 2021. You can read a summary of the report by fisheries expert Greg Taylor here, but, in general, many salmon runs across the province have been in decline and 2021 isn’t expected to be any different. But, unprecedented environmental conditions are making predictions of salmon returns in recent years more difficult to make. 

Every year, DFO’s State of the Salmon Program collects research on environmental changes from a variety of sources to better understand and inform salmon return predictions for the following year. They recently presented on the current environmental conditions and the implications for wild salmon in 2021. 

Read a recap of the presentation below.

Increasing global temperatures and changes in precipitation = warmer waterways

Research shows global air temperatures are trending hotter than expected in recent decades. Five of the last six years were the hottest on record. The situation gets more dire as you move closer to the north pole, as temperatures are increasing more rapidly than they are at the equator. Warmer air temperatures globally lead to warmer water temperatures locally and for species, including salmon, that thrive in colder waters, this is very harmful. 

In B.C., global warming is contributing to smaller snowpacks. A smaller than average snowpack means lower than average flow in rivers and streams and in turn, higher water temperatures.

B.C. is also experiencing drier summers, with less precipitation, leading to a similar bad outcome for salmon; less flow and water that gets warmer, faster. 

While temperatures above 25 degrees will kill salmon, temperatures above 18 degrees alter the behaviour of adult salmon, making it harder for them to swim, escape predators and dig their nests. Warm waters also impair salmons’ immune systems, making it harder for them to survive the effects of viruses and other pathogens.

In some cases, lack of precipitation can also result in some sections of streams or rivers drying up, leaving fish stranded in small pools of water and unable to migrate.

Record-setting forest fires are degrading spawning habitat

2017 and 2018 were both record-setting forest fire years in the province. Where these fires occur, the lack of tree cover and changes to soil results in increased runoff, slope instability, and erosion, all contributing to more sediment entering streams. This negatively affects salmon spawning habitat by covering spawning gravels and smothering redds (salmon nests).

Forest fires also destroy riparian vegetation. Without riparian vegetation to shade waterways, stream temperatures increase even more and further stress wild salmon.

More landslides, more disconnected habitat

Global warming is also thought to be increasing the occurrence of landslides. This has the potential to block access for salmon to their spawning grounds and can have a huge impact on specific runs.

Ocean conditions: the good, the bad, and the blob

Things aren’t just changing for salmon in their freshwater environments; marine conditions are also changing. The bad news? Oceans are absorbing much of the excess heat resulting from a warming climate. Even with intervention to address climate change, it will take some time for these expansive water bodies to drop in temperature. Increased ocean temperatures are thought to reduce overall ocean productivity and change the availability of different zooplankton, a primary food source for salmon. Larger, fattier zooplankton are being replaced by smaller, less nutritious species, and fewer of them, meaning there is less, and lower quality food for salmon in the ocean. Underfed and smaller fish don’t have the same energy stores to make the trip back to their spawning grounds. At the same time, wild salmon are having to compete with growing numbers of hatchery fish for these dwindling food supplies.

The west coast has also been home to “the blob” off and on since 2013. The blob is a patch of ocean stretching from California to Alaska with water temperatures even higher than the rest of the (warming) Pacific. The good news is that the recent presence of La Niňa, a period of cooler water temperatures in the south, will likely help to mitigate the warmer waters of the blob, and also increase precipitation locally, which will be beneficial to salmon in their freshwater habitat as well.

What’s our take-away?

Clearly, a changing climate is making freshwater and marine habitat less hospitable to wild salmon. Though they are resilient, how much closer to the brink can we push them before there is no coming back? While climate change is a global issue, we need our governments to step up and invest in salmon-friendly renewable energy and reduce rather than expand our production and use of harmful fossil fuels like oil and fracked gas. We need to swiftly tackle the threats to salmon that we have immediate control over. That means protecting, restoring and reconnecting key habitats (an investment that will also create jobs and support local economies), getting salmon farms out of the water, safer approaches to fishing and hatchery production, and better monitoring so we can understand the current status of different salmon populations.

See article here. . . . . . .

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DFO is making new fishing rules. Will they work?

National Observer by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson |  January 29th 2021

Only 293,000 sockeye salmon returned to the Fraser River last year; an uncomfortable echo of the Newfoundland cod collapse. New federal rules aim to prevent similar disasters. Photo by Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Dept. of Interior

In 1992, Canadians watched in horror as Newfoundland’s once-thriving cod stocks collapsed, leaving thousands without jobs and ecosystems transformed.

Yet despite the horror, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has not been legally required to rebuild depleted fish stocks even as others, including the iconic salmon runs in B.C., have hit historic lows. That soon might change.

Earlier this month, the federal government proposed a suite of changes to Canada’s fishing regulations that will force DFO to bring depleted commercial fish stocks back to abundant levels. It’s a move advocates say is a step in the right direction, but still might not be enough to restore oceanic abundance.

“We’ve seen big declines in our fish and marine fisheries in the last 50 years … we’re clearly not on the right trajectory, which means the status quo is not working,” said Josh Laughren, executive director of Oceana Canada. “The (proposed) regulations as done now, in our view … will not succeed in changing the status quo and getting us on a path to rebuilding our fish stocks.”

The proposed rules codify pre-existing internal DFO policies and require the ministry to assess the health of key fish populations in “batches” — salmon, rockfish and cod are in the first batch of 30 — to figure out why their populations have declined (or could decline) and lay out a plan to bring the stocks back to healthy levels. If the ministry doesn’t comply or opens a threatened fishery, it could be sued. Similar, but more stringent, regulations have been successfully implemented in other jurisdictions with major fisheries, like the U.S. and the EU.

The problem, Laughren said, is the rules lack key details: the rebuilding targets are too low, there’s no strict timeline to rebuild individual stocks, and the time between listing each batch of fish stocks is too long. Taken together, those issues could give the ministry room to avoid implementing policies leading to long-term health for fish stocks and fisheries, he said — at the cost of immediate social, economic, and political pain.

“If I were a fisherman, I would be in the long-term glad that these (rules) will be in place, because there’s no fishing communities if we have no fish,” said Susanna Fuller, vice-president of operations and projects at Oceans North. In the short term, however, closing vulnerable fisheries is a “hard decision” DFO has been too reluctant to make, she said.

More stringent rules actually make it easier for the ministry to tackle those difficult decisions, she said, because they lay out a very clear decision-making process. That makes it harder for the fisheries minister to allow fishing of at-risk stocks under pressure from industry and fishing communities concerned about their future.

More than 77,000 people work in the fisheries across Canada, according to DFO. In B.C. alone, the industry was worth about $760 million in 2018, says the provincial agriculture ministry.

“My hope is that the fisheries’ management system can be flexible and dynamic enough to help move fish harvesters to other species as they become more abundant,” Fuller said, helping ease the negative social and economic impacts of closed fisheries.

“Stronger regulations (can) actually give us the tools to rebuild fisheries and reduce pain on fishing communities,” she said.

Earlier this month, the federal government proposed changes to Canada’s fishing regulations to bring depleted commercial fish stocks back to abundant levels. It’s a move advocates say is a step in the right direction, but not enough.

Marc Fawcett-Atkinson / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

See full article here. . . . . .

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Our Amazing Community

by Gayle Neilson, Coast Reporter, Sunshine Coast, BC

January 28, 2021

Chaster Creek, Spawning Survey 2020 Photo Credit Brian Thicke

“Streamkeeper co-ordinator Shirley Samples reported some good news about the 2020 salmon spawning season in her New Year’s email. The group has been tracking salmon for the past two years in four creeks: Chaster Creek, Roberts Creek, Langdale Creek and Malcolm Creek. Shirley said, “The numbers increased substantially in Roberts Creek and Chaster Creek! Also, the chum salmon that did return were notably large in size. The number of coho returns were less than 2019; we hope that number will increase as this species is important to our whole ecosystem but especially for southern resident orcas that depend on them.” She thanked all the streamkeepers for their volunteer efforts. More info at https://sunshinecoaststreamkeepers.com/ ” – Coast Reporter

See full article here…….

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Watch your step! Salmon eggs may be underfoot

Posted January 14, 2021

See full article here……

Between fall and spring, spawning grounds are full of salmon redds, gravel nests dug by spawning females, containing thousands of eggs, (which develop into alevins). The redd protects eggs and alevins from predators and from washing away in heavy stream flows, but being well hidden on the ground makes them susceptible to unwitting trampling by people, pets and livestock.

How bad is it if you step on a redd and how can you avoid it?

Limited data has been collected on the impact of human activity on salmon redds. However, studies on trout redds show that trampling can cause mortality rates between 43 – 96 per cent. A similar rate applied to wild salmon redds could be disastrous, especially for endangered populations. 

Though trampling of redds isn’t a large cause of the decline of wild salmon, it is one of the few threats that we can easily remedy with a bit of awareness.

Sockeye alevin. Photo: Natalie Sopinka

Here are some tips for identifying and avoiding salmon redds.

Timing

Be especially vigilant for salmon redds between September and March in most locations in B.C. 

Do you see adult salmon?

If you visit a waterway and adult salmon are present, it is likely a spawning stream. Keep out of the river and keep pets on leashes to prevent damage to redds.

Know where redds are found in a stream

  • Pools vs. riffles. Pools occur where stream depth increases and flow decreases. Riffles are shallower sections of the waterway where the water moves more quickly. Riffles are preferred locations for salmon redds as the increased flow of water helps keep the redd well-oxygenated for baby salmon. 
  • Substrate. Salmon redds are made in gravel 15- 35 mm in diameter (pea to peach pit size). It needs to be small enough for the females to be able to move it and create their nest, but large enough that it doesn’t smother the eggs by getting too densely packed. 
  • Location. Be more vigilant when walking in or through the middle of a stream.  Salmon often spawn close to the centre of streams, not close to the banks.
  • Water depth. Most salmon spawn in relatively shallow water of a few feet or less. 

What does a redd look like?

  • Look for clean gravel. The act of creating a redd involves the female salmon disturbing gravel, which makes the circular area of about 1-2 m in diameter that has cleaner looking gravel than the surrounding area.
  • Look for a combination of a mound and a depression in the gravel. The mound, where the eggs are located, will be downstream of the depression. 

Additional Resources

https://mindtheredd.org/mindful-steps/

https://www.flyfishingtraditions.com/what-the-heck-are-salmon-redds-anyway/January 14th, 2021|0 CommentsFacebookTwitterEmail

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Posted January 14, 2021

Potential designation of Howe Sound as UNESCO biosphere reserve expected in 2021

See full article here…….

by Carlito Pablo on January 12th, 2021 

  • The Howe Sound, a deep fjord extending from West Vancouver to Squamish, is home to rare glass sponge reefs.SHUTTERSTOCK

Later this year, Canada may get its 19th UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve.

If all goes well, that recognition will go to a region in the Howe Sound or Átl’ka7tsem in Indigenous language.

The Howe Sound is a deep fjord extending from West Vancouver to Squamish.

It is home to glass sponge reefs, a rare kind found only along the west coast of Canada and the U.S.

The Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society has spearheaded the initiative to designate 218,723 hectares in the area as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

According to a summary by the organization, the proposed reserve is composed of 84 percent terrestrial area, and 16 percent marine environments of the Howe Sound.

Online, UNESCO or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization explains that there are currently 714 biosphere reserves around the world.

These are “learning places for sustainable development”, and found in 129 countries.

At present, Canada has 18 UNESCO biosphere reserves.

“They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity,” UNESCO explains.

Moreover, “They are places that provide local solutions to global challenges. Biosphere reserves include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each site promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.”

Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments. These reserves remain under the jurisdiction of the countries where they are located.

An information material by the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society notes that in 2000, Clayoquot Sound and Mt. Arrowsmith on Vancouver Island were designated biosphere regions.

The climate action committee of Metro Vancouver is scheduled to receive on Friday (January 15) an update about the potential designation of Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

A summary of the presentation by Ruth Simons of the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society notes that an international advisory committee will review the submission by the government of Canada.

The recommendations from the review panel are expected to be known in either April or May.

A formal UNESCO designation could be announced in the in the fall or winter.

The summary also cites the global significance of Howe Sound’s glass sponge reefs.

“Scientists have likened the discovery of glass sponge reefs in B.C. to discovering a herd of dinosaurs on land,” the document states.

These reefs provide habitat for 84-plus species of fish and invertebrates.

“They provide essential services for Howe Sound by filtering 17+ billion litres (6,800 Olympic swimming pools) of water every day,” the summary states.

It notes that the reefs would take “just two hours to pump the equivalent of Metro Vancouver’s daily wastewater volume and they remove 436 kg of total organic carbon from the water each day”. Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter at @carlitopablo

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Forage Fish in the Salish Sea

Pacific Sand Lance, Surf Smelt, Pacific Herring, and Northern Anchovy

Strait of Georgia Data Centre

Posted on January 8, 2021

See full article here……

Forage fish are a small schooling fish that play a crucial role in the marine food web, directly feeding many marine animals including orcas, birds, and salmon. Their role as prey underpins the health of our ocean ecosystems and their importance to the survival of salmon populations in the Salish Sea.¹

Forage fish are also integral to indigenous communities. The Coast Salish people depend on salmon not only as a food source, but salmon are deeply embedded in their culture, identity, wealth and trade. 

Additionally, forage fish are also a direct food source for many indigenous communities.² For example, several Northwest Coast groups traditionally collect herring spawn accumulated on marine vegetation, providing a snack of dried herring eggs on kelp.³ As forage fish face threats, so too will the indigenous communities whose traditional knowledge has taught co-existence with these species for centuries.

Types of Forage Fish

Pacific Herring

  • Are one of the most abundant fish in BC’s coastal waters.
  • Are a cornerstone of the marine food web and support a diversity of marine predators.⁴
  • Have sustained coastal First Nations communities for many thousands of years. 
  • Are crucial prey of Chinook salmon.
  • Spawn en masse on marine vegetation such as eelgrass and kelp.

Northern Anchovy

  • Spawn throughout the year with peak activity from February to April.
  • Adults have been spotted following warm years when larval recruitment is likely more successful.⁵
  • Are a forage fish that have recently been increasing in abundance in the Salish Sea.⁵ Continued warming of the Salish Sea may lead to greater abundance and persistence of anchovy, with potentially important consequences for the ecosystem as a whole.

Surf Smelt

  • Are a forage fish that grow to be 20–25 cm long, and feed on small organisms.⁶ 
  • Spawn on gravel and sand beaches near the high tide line, where overhanging vegetation protects the eggs from the summer sun.⁶ 
  • Support recreational and commercial fisheries in B.C. 

Pacific Sand Lance

  • Are a small but crucial forage fish due to their role as forage for marine fish, birds, and mammals.⁶ 
  • Adults are up to 20cm long, slightly smaller than Surf smelt.⁶ 
  • Are an important food source for Chinook salmon.
  • Spawn on sandy intertidal beaches, much like Surf smelt.

Interactive map of forage fish spawning habitat in the Strait of Georgia

(Data for Northern Anchovy spawn currently unavailable)

Threats Faced

Even small alterations to forage fish spawning habitat can lead to considerable change over time. Forage fish spawning beaches are undergoing a coastal squeeze, where they experience both the impacts of shoreline development on land and climatic conditions from the sea.⁷ There are a number of factors reducing the quantity and quality of beach habitat for forage fish spawning.

Climate Change

  • Will affect the survival of forage fish as rising sea levels increase efforts to protect shorelines, resulting in increased loss of beach habitat.³
  • Is causing increased sea surface temperatures and ocean acidity which will likely affect forage fish larval survival.⁵
  • Can also reduce availability of zooplankton and phytoplankton which are prey for forage fish.

Development

  • Near spawning grounds can also pose as a threat to forage fish populations.
  • Through installation of docks can block sunlight for nearshore environments.
  • Such as construction, log storage, and decreases in water quality, especially as a result of oil spills, can degrade or destroy this important habitat as well.⁵

Hardening of the foreshore

  • Is the largest threat as these species rely on healthy shorelines for survival.
  • Can impact beach sediment drift which can lead to sediment loss and degrading spawning habitat quality.¹
  • Can also limit sediment exchange in the shallow subtidal where sand lance are known to burrow.³

Disease and Parasitism

  • Also impact forage fish, specifically Pacific Herring. Viral haemorrhagic septicaemia virus IVa (VHSV-IVa) is a deadly disease that increases mortality of Pacific Herring. Herring and other forage species are exceptionally susceptible to VHSV and are considered to be natural reservoir hosts for the virus.⁸
  • Parasites in the form of sea lice (C. clemensi) also infest herring. They can influence recruitment and population growth via direct mortality, and sub-lethal effects. Herring may serve as a natural reservoir host population for C. clemensi, exposing this parasite to the juvenile salmon that feed on them.⁹

Overfishing

  • Is also a threat to forage fish as they are increasingly targeted directly by humans for fish meal or other purposes.
  • Played a large part in BC’s herring population collapse of the 1960’s.⁴
  • Can put pressure on local stocks, changing population structure and recruitment success of populations.
  • Can be managed. Commercial fisheries are not the largest threat to forage fish when operated sustainably.

Protecting coastal habitats for forage fish helps ensure that they can continue to spawn, and ensures that the vital role they play in the food chain is not interrupted. Determining which beaches are integral spawning habitat has been the focus of a network of researchers and citizen scientists around the Salish Sea.

Research, Restoration & Monitoring

Forage Fish Spawning Beach Monitoring Network

In a multi-organizational effort, scientists and volunteer citizen scientists are working to reduce the knowledge gapregarding when and where forage fish species spawn. The success of these projects hinge on these citizen scientists, community members who are interested in contributing to scientific research, in order to simultaneously cover a greater geographic extent.

Monitoring teams work to identify active forage fish spawning sites through the collection and identification of suitable sediment for forage fish embryos (Pacific sand lance and/or surf smelt), from beaches with known favorable habitat characteristics.⁶

Beach spawning surveys for forage fish embryos will provide the data necessary to identify crucial spawning beaches that are at risk, thus guiding advocation for improved regulatory protections. 

Watch the video by Project Watershed Society to learn more about the forage fish monitoring process.

Click here to view a map that visualizes the results of efforts to monitor forage fish spawning habitat in the Strait of Georgia. With thousands of surveys conducted, experts are forming a picture of which beaches are vital to Pacific sand lance and Surf smelt.

Coho and Chinook Adult Diet Program

Forage fish are also being monitored in alternate ways. The Coho and Chinook Adult Diet Program coordinated by the University of Victoria (UVic), aims to use stomachs of adult Coho and Chinook to better understand changes in marine ecosystems. Looking at what the salmon are eating and how this changes in time and space, allows us to understand fluctuations in populations of their prey, such as herring or other forage fish. 

The program involves recreational anglers as citizen scientists to collect data year-round throughout the Salish Sea. These volunteers collect stomachs of adult fish which are then processed by students and staff at UVic.

The results so far indicate that Pacific herring are by far the most important prey for both Chinook and Coho, providing a food source year-round. Another finding observed a recent surge in Northern anchovypopulations in the Southern Strait, with anchovies comprising up to 30 per cent of the adult salmon diet in areas of abundance. Learn more about the project here or via their Facebook page.

How Can We Protect Forage Fish Spawning Habitat?

To better understand the jurisdictional landscape around the foreshore, WWF-Canada requested the services of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre to help untangle the jurisdictional complexity of the foreshore, and to determine which levels of government are best positioned to change policies to better protect forage fish spawning habitat. The Environmental Law Centre’s Report recommended the need for a new provincial act, titled the Shoreline Protection Act, to protect beach spawning habitat.

WWF-Canada is collaborating with stakeholders and partners to advocate for better provincial coastal strategies and law reform. The data collected by the Forage Fish Monitoring Network will also identify those beaches that have been degraded from human activities (e.g. sea walls) that likely require restoration opportunities, such as beach nourishment or shoreline restoration.

Value of citizen science

The research being done on forage fish is imperative to the ecosystem as a whole. These projects and citizen scientists are filling knowledge and data gaps of forage fish abundance, spawning locations and timing. By hosting these data in the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s database (Strait of Georgia Data Centre) they will be accessible freely to any parties at all times.

The data acquired through these projects can be used to make educated decisions for protection of spawning habitats and stocks. This includes potential management modifications to beaches which could reduce threats to forage fish spawning habitat.

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December 18, 2020

Discovery Islands salmon farms to be phased out of existence over next 18 months

Great news for the health of our salmon stocks!

Decision made in consultation with local First Nations, minister says

Karin Larsen · CBC News · Posted: Dec 17, 2020

The controversial open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands near Campbell River, B.C., will be phased out over the next 18 months.

In making the announcement, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said all 19 farms have to be free of fish by June 30, 2022, when their renewed 18-month licences expire, and that no new fish can be brought in. 

Jordan said the decision was difficult but reflects the consultations she had with seven First Nations: the Homalco, Klahoose, K’ómoks, Kwaikah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum. 

“We heard overwhelmingly from First Nations in the area that they do not want these fish farms there,” she said. “They feel that they should have a say in their territorial waters, and I absolutely agree with them.”

Chief Darren Blaney of the Homalco  First Nation said he was pleased with the outcome, noting the cultural importance and significance of salmon to his nation. 

“[Wild, local] stocks have been declining over the years,” Blaney said. “Salmon are pretty resilient. I think if we give them an opportunity, they will start to rebuild.”

For years, critics of the farms have said they are contributing to the collapse of wild Fraser River salmon stocks because sea lice and other pathogens transfer from the farms to migrating juvenile wild salmon as they swim through the narrow channels to get to the ocean. 

Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, said his group was also pleased with the decision.

“People have become aware, not only of the critical state of wild salmon in British Columbia, but what threat the fish farms operations, as they currently are, pose to wild salmon runs,” he said. 

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association says the decision puts salmon farming in B.C. and across Canada at risk.

“This comes at a bad time, during a pandemic when local food supply and good local jobs have never been more important,” the group said in a statement. 

“We have just received this decision, and will be taking some time to consider it and speak with the numerous companies and communities involved in salmon farming in the province before commenting further.”

In September, 101 B.C. First Nations and their supporters called for the removal of the Discovery Islands salmon farms, asking they be moved to land-based closed-containment systems.

One week later, Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists said the current farms were “minimal risk” to Fraser River salmon based on nine separate peer-reviewed risk assessments. Sea lice was not considered in the studies. 

Jordan said today’s decision does not mean fish farms elsewhere will necessarily face the same fate. 

“Discovery Islands is one area, it’s not an indicator of how everything is going to go,” she said. 

She said the 18-month period allows for the three million farm salmon in the pens to grow to harvestable size.

She expects 80 per cent of the fish will be gone by April 2021, in time for the start of the next Fraser River out-migration period.

The majority of the 19 Discovery Islands salmon farms are owned by three companies: Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada Ltd. and Grieg Seafoods Ltd. 

Currently, nine of the 19 farms are fallow with no fish in their pens.

Fraser River salmon returns are at a historic low this year with only 270,000 expected.

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Posted October 15, 2020

It is important to keep the health of our salmon in the forefront of the politicians. Please see article written by Watershed Watch: https://watershedwatch.ca/

“We’ve compiled some questions you can ask BY EMAIL OR AT TOWN HALL MEETINGS:

Remember to be respectful and brief, but make sure they answer your questions. Bring your questions on paper in case you need to leave them with a candidate for follow-up. You may want to record the answers to your questions so you can hold your future representative to account!

Preamble: Introduce yourself briefly and say something about the importance of wild salmon and clean water to you and your family. State your concern about the massive declines we are seeing.

Some questions you can ask:

RESTORING HABITAT is critical to rebuilding struggling wild salmon runs and helping them adapt to climate change. Thousands of kilometres of salmon habitat are needlessly blocked by old culverts and obsolete flood control structures around B.C. If elected, will your government commit to significantly increasing salmon habitats by funding and implementing proven fish-friendly solutions for flood control and fish passage? And will you also commit to creating a long-term Watershed Security Fund to protect and restore our watersheds?

SALMON FARMS spread harmful viruses and parasites to young wild salmon and British Columbians want them gone. The province and First Nations are making historic progress by removing 17 salmon farms from the Broughton Archipelago but it’s business as usual everywhere else, including the Discovery Islands where farms were supposed to be removed this year. The federal government committed to working with the province to transition B.C. salmon farms to closed-containment facilities where they can’t harm wild salmon, but they’re dragging their heels and ignoring evidence of harm. These farms require provincial licenses to operate. If elected, would you immediately cancel the leases for salmon farms in the Discovery Islands and give notice to all the other salmon farms that their leases will terminate no later than the federal government’s transition date of 2025?

CLEAN, ABUNDANT WATER is the lifeblood of our province and good resource development should never degrade our watersheds—the source of our freshwater. B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act isn’t being properly implemented and our watersheds are getting trashed. We need our provincial government to get tough on water wasters and polluters, with stronger rules and better enforcement. If elected, will you commit to fully implementing and enforcing the Water Sustainability Act and the Drinking Water Protection Act? And will you also commit to hiring an independent Chief Watershed Security Officer with the resources, powers, and staff to enforce the regulations that keep our rivers and salmon safe?

REBUILDING WILD SALMON runs has never been more important. Dozens of wild salmon populations across our province are endangered or threatened, including Fraser River steelhead. Most salmon species are federally managed, but steelhead are a provincial responsibility. The current provincial government supported the federal decision last year to not list two endangered Fraser steelhead populations under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. They also promised to introduce a B.C. species-at-risk law, which never materialized. If elected, will you support the rebuilding of B.C.’s endangered salmon runs under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and commit to creating a strong B.C. species-at-risk law to rebuild provincially managed species like wild steelhead?

FISHING is a cornerstone of B.C. life. It’s essential to First Nations and puts healthy, wild food on the tables of families across our province. B.C.’s provincial governments have a dark history of supporting fishing practices that contribute to the decline of wild salmon, and promoting artificial hatcheries rather than fixing the root causes. Large-scale hatchery production endangers the survival of wild salmon. We need our provincial government to embrace modern sustainable fishing practices that allow for the harvest of healthy, abundant wild salmon runs while leaving endangered stocks to recover. If elected, will you support a transition to modern selective fishing methods that reduce the catch of endangered fish, without relying on hatcheries? And will you support stronger enforcement and independent monitoring of salmon fisheries?

These suggested questions are based on the work we are doing at Watershed Watch. If you have other good questions to ask your candidates, go for it! Stay strong, be safe, and thank you for standing up for wild salmon.” – WATERSHEDWATCH.CA

January 23, 2020

Commercial salmon sector braces for another tough year on coast by Carla Wilson / Times Colonist

B.C. commercial salmon fishermen are waiting for pre-season forecasts due next month after 2019 delivered the lowest returns on record for prized Fraser River sockeye.

Last year also brought in sweeping fishing restrictions for Fraser River chinook because of fears for their survival and for the endangered southern resident killer whales, which depend on that species as their main source of food.

As well, in June, massive chunks of rock sheared off a cliff at Big Bar, crashed into the Fraser River and blocked spawning salmon. That led to a rescue operation to transport as many fish around the barricade as possible.

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said last week that construction is starting soon to clear the river while water levels are low.

“This is a very difficult time for the resource and for those who depend and rely upon the resource,” Dane Chauvel, chairman of the B.C. Salmon Marketing Council, said Monday.

The council represents fishermen and related industries in the wild salmon sector.

“There’s not a lot to be optimistic about in the near-term,” said Chauvel.

This is not the time to despair, he said. “It’s the time to get together and figure this out and do what we can to recover.”

Chauvel is encouraged about the longer term, noting, for example, that Fisheries and Oceans is staging a meeting on Friday in Vancouver of all sectors working on the recovery of south-coast chinook.

Everyone is working collaboratively to come up with solutions, he said.

But between now and any recovery, there will be lean periods and there’s no reason to expect bumper runs in 2020, said Chauvel, who is a troller fisherman on the coast.

It’s too early to know for sure, but after last year, which Chauvel described as horrible, “everybody’s kind of hunkered down anticipating 2020 may be another year very much like the last.”

The near-term is going to be difficult for coastal communities depending on fisheries.

This needs to be explored with the fisheries minister, Chauvel said. “What are you going to do to support the fishermen, the communities and the infrastructure that depend upon the fisheries while we are working a recovery plan?”

If fisheries infrastructure disappears, it will be difficult to bring it and its related expertise back, Chauvel said.

“I think that’s the big issue right now.”

There were just 485,900 sockeye returning to the Fraser River year last year — down from the pre-season forecast of 4,795,900, said Fiona Martens, who is chief of fisheries management programs for the Pacific Salmon Commission.

That body is a joint Canada-U.S. organization charged with implementing the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Last year’s Fraser River sockeye returns were the lowest since estimates began in 1893, she said. A preliminary forecast for this year’s Fraser River sockeye will be available in late February, Martens said.

As for other B.C. salmon runs, preliminary reports through Fisheries and Oceans Canada are not yet available.

Forecasts are normally finalized for the start of consultations for the integrated fisheries management plans, usually in early February, said a Fisheries and Oceans official.

On a more positive note, Fraser River pink salmon did better than expected, with a run size of 8,858,200 last season, beating the pre-season forecast of 5,018,600.

See full article here…….

Posted August 25, 2019

‘They’re flat broke’: Salmon fishermen demand disaster relief for failed season

Union president argues low salmon returns a climate change impact like forest fires, flood, tornadoes

CBC News by Roshini Nair·  Aug 21, 2019

With some of this year’s salmon runs projected to be the lowest on record, West Coast salmon fishermen are demanding disaster relief from the federal and provincial governments.

The Pacific Salmon Commission is forecasting a total return of only 447,000 sockeye salmon to the Fraser, one of the world’s richest salmon rivers, this year.

“This is the lowest run size ever estimated since estimates began in 1893, and lower than the previous record for lowest run size of 858,000 observed in 2016,” its report read. 

Just nine years ago, in 2010, the forecasted return of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River was 34.5 million.

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union says those with salmon-only licences have been devastated.

Union president Joy Thorkelson says the season has been a total failure across all the major salmon-producing regions in the province: the Fraser, the Skeena, and the Central Coast.

“Mother Nature is very variable and some years stocks will come back in large numbers and other years they won’t. But this is the first year that I can remember — and I’ve been around for a long, long time now — where we’ve had a failure in every area of the B.C. coast.” 

‘Flat broke’

She says fishermen — especially those with salmon-only licences — are devastated. 

“They’re flat broke,” she said. 

“Many of them are in debt because they got the boat and gear ready for the season and they [invested] quite heavily in doing that. And then they put fuel in their boats and went to the fishing grounds and then caught nothing.”

On behalf of these fisherman, Thorkelson has put forward a letter asking the provincial and federal governments for climate change disaster assistance. 

“This is a climate change impact just the same as if you were in an area that was burned by forest fires or an area that was flooded out or hailed out or tornadoed out,” she said. 

Thorkelson said the fishermen are hoping for short-term relief, but acknowledges that a more long-term plan needs to be developed. 

“How are we going to have commercial fishermen and shoreworkers that can hang on to remaining in that industry? How can we have processors who are able to make it from one year to the next and be profitable?”

Government response

Jocelyn Lubczuk, the press secretary for Minister Jonathan Wilkinson of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, told CBC News that she “understands and empathizes with the economic impacts of the declining salmon returns across B.C.”

“Sadly today, many runs are in steep decline as direct result of a number of factors, including habitat destruction, harvest, and the effects of climate change,” she wrote. 

She added that while the DFO does not have the mandate to provide financial aid for Canadian workers, it will reach out to the proper department to discuss salmon fishermen on the West Coast. 

In response to CBC News, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture said it has “strongly urged the Government of Canada to provide specific Employment Insurance enhancements aimed at assisting commercial fishermen and shoreworkers in B.C.’s fisheries-dependent communities.”

They noted the federal government has provided similar assistance in the Atlantic fisheries.

It also says the province is committed to conserving wild stocks so the industry can sustainably harvest salmon into the future.

See article here…..


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