Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will not be authorizing a “test fishery” for the recreational sector to target chinook in the main stem of the Fraser River.
“DFO is not considering opening a fishery at this time due to critically low Fraser River sockeye stocks,” said Jane Deeks, press secretary for the Ministry of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
A response letter containing the thumbs-down for a test fishery for conservation reasons was sent Aug. 27 by DFO to the six signatories from B.C. fishing groups who signed the initial request.
“Chinook populations in the Fraser River are in the midst of a steep decline, and our government continues to take strong, consistent action to protect and restore them,” Deeks said.
Six sportfishing groups had fired off a letter dated Aug. 23 requesting a meeting with DFO to discuss the idea of a “ bar-fishing test fishery” for chinook that would have run from Sept. 1 to Sept. 21.
The fishing groups had been hoping for a chance to selectively target the late-summer chinook run, from the mouth of the river to Hope, using “bar fishing” methods, which they said have been demonstrated not to impact other stocks of conservation concern, like sockeye.
The bar-fishing test fishery idea was borne of sheer frustration by anglers who feel shut out, and the letter was signed by reps of Fraser River Sport Fishing Alliance, B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers, Fraser Valley Salmon Society, Public Fishery Alliance, Fraser Valley Guides Association, and Vancouver Sport Fishing Guides Association.
Part of the reason why the request was denied, according to DFO, was because of the crashing sockeye numbers, but it was also in order to provide priority access to First Nations to harvest Chinook for food, social and ceremonial (FSC) purposes.
In spite of the thumbs-down to the test fishery request DFO reps are nonetheless “confident” the 2020 Fisheries management measures will provide the “necessary restrictions” to protect the stock, without causing unnecessary hardship to industry.
“These (2020) measures were not taken lightly,” Deeks underlined. “They were made after extensive consultation with industry representatives, scientists, conservationists, and Indigenous peoples because our government fully understands the economic and social impacts these measures will have.
“They include additional restrictions to strengthen conservation as well as the flexibility needed where impacts to stocks of concern will be very low.”
DFO officials also told the sportfishing groups that they did not have the “regulatory tools” to restrict an angler’s method of fishing to limit impacts on passing sockeye by limiting leader length, which the bar-fishing method requires.
The bar-fishing method the groups were advocating for chinook, also called spring salmon, employs different gear than bottom-bouncing or flossing for sockeye. Bar fishers fish from shore using a shorter leader of three feet maximum and heavier weights.
“We know that many fishers and business owners will be impacted by the Fisheries management measures, and we take their concerns very seriously,” Deeks said. “These decisions are very difficult, but they are necessary if we want to see this species survive and return to its former abundance.”
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