Requiem for the Stamp

Lest we forget.

“We have committed to an open, honest government that is accountable to Canadians….”  

(From the mandate letter provided to the Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard by The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada)

I’ve written previously on the matter of the net fisheries for enhanced sockeye salmon impacting summer steelhead returning to the Somass River tributaries (the Stamp River and its own tributary the Ash River being the foremost among them) once renowned for the sport they offered. My first post (September 7, 2016 “Remembering the Stamp”) spoke to my efforts to get the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to address questions put to their Port Alberni staff regarding the number of steelhead caught by commercial and First Nations nets. A second post (“A letter to the Minister of Fisheries”) on September 8 described the next step taken. Those attempts and a number of follow-ups were described further in a December 5, 2016 post (“The System is Rigged”).

None of those messages received an acknowledgement, much less a response. Still thinking someone must be home in Ottawa, I tried the opposition Conservative’s fisheries critic, Member of Parliament (MP) Todd Doherty, who represents British Columbia’s Cariboo – Prince George riding. My message to him was dated November 13, 2016. More silence. Next was a request for assistance sent to the recently announced Parliamentary Secretary to Minister LeBlanc, MP Terry Beech, also a BC representative (Burnaby North – Seymour riding). On January 27, 2017 I sent him the full chronology of my efforts to have simple questions addressed. The silence continued. Finally, after seven months of being stonewalled at every juncture, I contacted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s consumer affairs advocates with a suggestion there might be a story here they would be interested in. To be fair, that contact is only a couple of weeks old so I won’t write it off as unsuccessful yet but, given my experiences thus far, it’s hard to be optimistic.

Now, just to recap a couple of points. First, there are rules around catch reporting (conditions of license) for every one of the commercial fishery openings for the Port Alberni area fisheries authorized by DFO. These are readily seen in any of the notices published on DFO’s web site. Here’s an example clipped from Fisheries Notice 0522, dated June 14, 2016:

Daily Catch Report – for quota, prior to 08:00 hours the day after fishing or prior to landing of catch, or for non-quota, within 48 hours of stopping fishing or within two (2) hours of landing of catch – Phone AMR/E-Log  Note: Daily Catch must be recorded in the harvest log for each day fished prior to each landing and by 08:00 hours the day after fishing.

 That notice was specific to seine vessels. Here’s a clip from one specific to gill net vessels (Notice 0493, dated June 6, 2016):

In-season activity and catch reporting is a mandatory requirement under the 2016-2017 Area D Salmon Gill Net Conditions of Licence. This information is important for in-season management of the fishery. Furthermore, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has identified improved catch monitoring as a fundamental priority for fisheries management. Failure to comply with the 2016-2017 Area D Salmon Gill Net Conditions of Licence, in particular those sections specific to activity and catch monitoring, will be a priority for enforcement action.

So, there can be no dispute that the steelhead catch numbers I have been seeking since late June, 2016 are supposed to be readily available. The Port Alberni office of DFO issued weekly bulletins throughout the fishing season, from early June through early October detailing how many sockeye and chinook had been caught by the various commercial and First Nations fisheries as well as the recreational fishery but, mandatory catch reporting nothwithstanding, steelhead were obviously not on the DFO radar. The sockeye numbers indicate 61% of the estimated total sockeye return to the Somass system were harvested. It is not unreasonable to assume a similar proportion of the co-migrating steelhead was also caught.

Second, for the Port Alberni area commercial fisheries, the regulations read that coho, pink, chum, chinook and steelhead “may not be retained”. Other steelhead sensitive areas of the coast treat these fish quite differently. Here’s an example clipped from Fisheries Notice 0695 dated July 20, 2016 (Area 4 is the mouth of the Skeena):

 All gill net fisheries in Areas 4 & 5 are being conducted with non-retention and non-possession of chum, chinook & steelhead. None of these species may be aboard a vessel that is engaged in fishing unless they are being revived in the revival tank immediately prior to release.

 The difference between not being allowed to retain steelhead and not being allowed to retain or possess them unless they are being loved back to health prior to release is not trivial but it really doesn’t matter if no one ever checks. Consider a couple of examples in that context. The first stems from some investigative work done by Watershed Watch, a well known BC based conservation organization. The date was August 2013. It is plainly obvious how regulations applying to non-target species were embraced.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/video-proves-unwanted-salmon-being-left-for-dead-on-seiners-group-alleges/article13790930/

That incident produced enough heat from non-commercial fishing interests to pressure DFO’s enforcement staff to start paying attention to long standing regulations governing the treatment of non-target species. That didn’t happen overnight by any means but accountability was slowly becoming something that could no longer be ignored.

The next example of enforcement of regulations around by-catch surfaced in August 2016 near Prince Rupert, not far north of the location of the 2013 incident. The righteous indignation of the commercial fishers involved is typical of the attitudes that have prevailed for at least 25 years I have been associated with commercial fisheries subject to release of steelhead. The only difference is the 2016 incident resulted in charges, although efforts to learn of the disposition of those charges have yet to bear fruit.

http://www.thenorthernview.com/news/389620871.html

In the net fishing areas the Stamp River summer steelhead traverse near their ultimate destination I have never seen any enforcement staff. That, together with the aforementioned regulation differences between divergent areas of the BC coast, leaves the treatment of steelhead wide open to continuing non-compliance. Here’s a couple of example photographs to illustrate that point. This is a First Nations seine vessel brailing a large catch of sockeye in the upper end of Alberni Inlet in June 2015. Brailing is a requirement but the idea is the brailed fish are to be carefully sorted and all non-target species released. Well, the catch was being brailed alright but directly into the fish hold with no effort to sort anything. Note the number of dead fish tangled in the net and the number belly up still waiting to be brailed. In spite of me being within ten meters while taking dozens of pictures, no one on board the vessel showed any concern over what they were doing.

Am I being unfair or biased in my criticism? I think not. Consider a slide presented by a high ranking Conservation and Protection Division (C&P) representative at DFO’s South Coast Division post season review in December 2016.

The second and third bullets speak volumes. I challenge anyone to produce credible evidence of any monitoring of the fisheries I am speaking to here, let alone “enhanced monitoring”. “Observed compliance declines in commercial salmon fisheries” is considered a success? And, about that “improved catch reporting, accountability and verification”. The memo apparently didn’t reach Port Alberni.

Now for the ultimate steelhead eye poke. The Fisheries Act, the overarching legislation governing all fisheries in Canada, states:

Obstructing passage of fish or waters

  • 29(1) No person shall erect, use or maintain any seine, net, weir or other fishing appliance that
    • (a)unduly obstructs the passage of fish in any Canadian fisheries waters, whether subject to any exclusive right of fishery or not; or
    • (b)obstructs more than two thirds of the width of any river or stream or more than one third of the width of the main channel at low tide of any tidal stream.
  • Marginal note:
Removal
(2)The Minister or a fishery officer may order the removal of or remove any seine, net, weir or other fishing appliance that, in the opinion of the Minister or fishery officer, results in an obstruction referred to in paragraph (1)(a) or (b).

Marginal note:
Tidal streams
(3) For the purposes of paragraph (1)(b), if a tidal stream has no main channel at low tide, then the tidal stream’s width is considered to be the width of its main channel.

As I’ve noted in previous messages on this site, the primary net fishing area for First Nations fishers harvesting sockeye in the June – July period when summer steelhead run timing overlaps are most likely to occur is the tidal reach of the lower Somass River from just downstream of the Port Alberni pulp mill to the Highway 4 bridge crossing. The distance is about 2 km., all of which is readily observable and easily accessible by foot, vehicle or boat. An enforcement officer could enjoy a coffee at the concession stand at Clutesi Haven Marina, or sit in his vehicle anywhere along a kilometre of highway upstream or downstream and witness flagrant violation of the these Fisheries Act regulations every day the fishery is open. The marina is not exactly out of sight, out of mind. It is immediately adjacent to Highway 4, a stone’s throw from the town center and probably the busiest of any marina on the entire west coast of Vancouver Island.

Here’s a few reminders of what the First Nations fishery has become. Four of these five photos were taken within sight of the Clutesi Haven Marina, the fifth about 1 km downstream. The Highway 4 bridge is seen in the background of the first photo.

Such obvious violations of Fisheries Act regulations in such readily observable situations can only be interpreted as untouchable. Welcome to the new reality.

One might assume a river whose steelhead fishery was internationally renowned and revered by icons of British Columbia’s angling history would have attracted the attention of conservation oriented anglers given the unconscionable treatment its fish have been subjected to in recent times. Anglers, guides, sportfishing advocacy organizations of all persuasions, chambers of commerce, local business interests, etc. light their hair on fire over Thompson, Skeena and Dean steelhead in situations that pale to insignificance relative to the Stamp/Somass. DFO hosts meetings of a group known as the Area 23 Harvest Committee every Thursday afternoon, in-season. I’m advised in writing there are two “freshwater river representatives” plus a Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources (FLNRO – the steelhead management people) staff member invited to attend. If any of them do I find it curious that the word steelhead has never appeared in a single one of the DFO bulletins I receive from the Port Alberni office.

In the final analysis I regret to say the wild summer steelhead of the Somass River system are doomed. Short of chemical warfare they won’t be eliminated entirely but the combination of factors conspiring against them – commercial and First Nations fishery harvest, a hatchery program that has homogenized summer and winter stocks, construction of fishways and barrier removals that provided access to areas of the watershed previously the exclusive preserve of wild summer fish – is insurmountable. Failed returns of enhanced sockeye and chinook in years ahead may slow the rate of demise but the legacy of General Noel Money and Roderick Haig-Brown is gone and all but forgotten.

Comments 8

  • Unfortunately, this does not surprise me in the least. I have long considered the DFO to be a useless and corrupt government department that lies to the public. The DFO is referred to by many as the “Dumb Effing Organization.” I believe the rot starts at the top and decisions are both politically and financially motivated and while their regulations “talk the talk” the DFO rarely if ever “walks the walk.” The DFO has long displayed a weakness and lack of observing, monitoring and reporting non compliance and violations of the Fisheries Act with the result that the commercial fishing fleet and in this case First Nations does what they like. The DFO has lied to the public, for example piscine reovirus causes disease in BC, despite efforts to tell us otherwise. It is time to get rid of this corrupt government department for once and for all and to replace it with an honest and diligent alternative.

  • Alaska does good and bad things with their fisheries. But the overriding ‘one thing’ they do is something that has to happen in British Columbia. And that is to have complete control of our fisheries. A made in B.C. fisheries management structure would be knowledgeable, accountable and free from most of the political influence that currently exists within DFO. Managers would not be able to hide in Ottawa. And we would have an all encompassing management system. One that controls all aspects of Pacific salmon. The current structure involves input from two levels of government. In that system, proper fisheries management drowns because of the pissing war that ensues.

  • Bob,
    Sadly, DFO has no interest in steelhead by-catch. Several years ago I sent a lengthy letter to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Shea (see below). I had just spent 8 days on the Dean landing 15 steelhead — 100% of which had been completely de-scaled in the commercial fishery for Snootli Creek chums. Unlike you, I received a reply in which Minister Shea assured me that there was no problem with by catch in this carefully managed fishery. The combined gill/seine interception was 328 steelhead which fortunately were all released unharmed to continue the journey to the Dean — all is well: NO PROBLEM.

    Of course, since there is no problem, there is no reason to do anything differently.
    It’s hopeless. Pete

    August 25, 2013

    Dear Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Shea,
    I am writing you regarding the Dean River and the impact of Area 8 commercial fisheries are having on the river’s steelhead population. As you undoubtedly know, the Dean supports a world renowned steelhead fishery, drawing anglers from all over the globe to British Columbia every year.
    The commercial fishery targeting Snootli Creek hatchery enhanced Chum salmon has long been a source of significant by-catch of Dean River steelhead. Since 1980, the Area 8 commercial fishery has harvested, on average 8,000-12,000 Dean steelhead annually — roughly 2/3rds of the entire Dean steelhead run.
    The Snootli Creek hatchery was opened in 1978 and has been expanded substantially over the years. It now produces tens of millions of juveniles. It has fostered a dramatic expansion of commercial effort in Area 8 for Chums and Chinook. The later fishery is, in our view, largely responsible for the extirpation of the once robust late returning Bella Coola winter run steelhead population which had a run timing (April-early June) which corresponded with the early returning Snootli Creek hatchery spring Chinook. This once prolific steelhead fishery has been closed for almost 20 years with escapements less than 100 steelhead.
    Similarly, Dean River steelhead escapements have declined steadily since introduction of Snootli Creek hatchery Chum salmon. This year, the commercial chum fishery has been off the scale with double the number of boats and 24 openings to date with disastrous impact on Dean River steelhead. In conversations with several commercial fishermen who are participants in this fishery, we understand that each commercial boat typically catches 5-8 steelhead per day. There have been 24 openings with 100-150 boats participating in this year’s steelhead by catch is the range of 12,000 to 19,000. In addition to the obvious excessive commercial by-catch, the practices of many of the commercial fishermen do not meet the minimal conservation requirements stipulating in-water brailing and/or immediate live release of non-target species including steelhead. The callous, sickening disregard of these requirements has been dramatically documented in various videos.
    The very high level of steelhead by-catch is confirmed by Dean River anglers who report exceptionally low encounter rates with 80%-90% of steelhead net scarred and/or seriously injured fish in their catch.
    This commercial fishery targeting enhanced hatchery Chum salmon poses a grave threat to the native, wild Dean steelhead population as well as wild Chum, Coho, Chinook, Pink and Sockeye salmon present in Area 8. Dramatic declines in these wild populations pose severe risks to other wildlife species including grizzly bears which have declined by over 90% in the past decade and a half in the Bella Coola and Dean watersheds.
    The Dean River is a legendary steelhead fishery which annually generates millions of dollars to the BC economy. It is essential that if there are to be future commercial openings that DFO enact conservation measures to drastically reduce non-target species by-catch – weed lines for gill nets, steelhead recovery boxes, in-water sorting of brailed fish, restricting the commercial fishery to North Bentick arm and so on would all reduced significantly non-target by-catch mortality. In any case, there must be funding for the monitoring and enforcement of these changes.
    There is only one Dean River, and it is a priceless part of British Columbia’s economy and culture.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    Sincerely,
    Peter W. Soverel
    President, Wild Salmon Rivers (dba: The Conservation Angler)

    DFO response
    Mr <> . Peter W. Soverel
    President
    Wild Salmon Rivers

    Dear Mr. Soverel:

    Thank you for your correspondence of August 27, 2013, regarding your concerns about commercial salmon fisheries and the bycatch of steelhead in Dean Channel. 

    For salmon management, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is guided by Canada’s Policy for Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon for the protection, preservation and rebuilding of wild salmon and their marine and freshwater ecosystems for the benefit of all Canadians.

    DFO carefully designs fisheries plans to avoid or minimize impacts on weaker stocks while allowing the sustainable harvest of more abundant salmon stocks.  Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs) for salmon are prepared each year to identify fishing opportunities and constraints for the coming season based on DFO scientific analysis of environmental conditions and stock assessment. 

    The Department adopts a cautious approach to harvesting opportunities to ensure that conservation objectives are met.  The Salmon Northern B.C. IFMP contains information on conservation objectives and decision rules for managing fisheries under variable abundance levels, and provides clarity on how the Allocation Policy for Pacific Salmon is applied.  The Salmon Northern B.C. IFMP is available online at .

    The Department’s precautionary management approach of limiting commercial, recreational and First Nation salmon harvests is designed to not only conserve salmon stocks in British Columbia, but also to support the process of rebuilding them.  Fisheries are managed to provide sufficient numbers of salmon to spawn in our rivers and to sustain them for the future.

    For steelhead, the Department works with the Province of British Columbia to manage steelhead under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU); the current approach for managing fisheries that impact steelhead was developed jointly by DFO and the Province.  The Department’s management approach, based on the objectives of the MOU, is to minimize the impact on steelhead during Canadian fisheries directed at more abundant salmon populations.

    In 2013, the chum gillnet fishery was targeting strong returns of Bella Coola chum in Area 8 and averaged two days of fishing per week for the months of July and August.  This activity level is below the historic average fishing pattern.  The Dean Channel gillnet fishery effort was less than 10 percent of the historical average, and the Area 8 seine fishing effort was also less than 10 percent of the historical average. 

    These fishery opportunities provide significant economic opportunities to the Bella Coola, Hagensborg and Shearwater communities, as well as to the Heiltsuk and Nuxalk First Nations, while meeting conservation objectives.

    No conservation problems for steelhead have been identified; however, significant management measures are in place to reduce harm to steelhead in these fisheries.  I have attached an appendix for your interest.

    Also, the Sport Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB) has been advising DFO on recreational fishery issues for nearly 50 years.  The SFAB represents recreational fishing interests on the Integrated Harvest Planning Committee (IHPC), which advises the Minister on fishing plans.  The final IFMP reflects the input of the IHPC, including the perspective of the SFAB.

    Local stakeholders are encouraged to provide their input to local Sport Fishing Advisory Committees (SFACs), which are located throughout the province.  DFO will be holding meetings with the SFACs over the next few months to review the Department’s current fishing plans and to make improvements for next year.  For more information, please visit the Department’s website at .

    Regarding the videos you mention in your letter, reports of suspicious activity and concerns about impacts to fish or fish habitat may be made directly to the toll-free 24-hour Observe, Record and Report (ORR) line at 1-800-465-4336.  More information is available on DFO’s website at .

    Thank you for sharing your concerns about this matter.

    Yours sincerely,

    Original Signed by

    Gail Shea, P.C., M.P.

    Ministerial Correspondence Control Unit / Unité de contrôle de la correspondance ministérielle
    Fisheries and Oceans Canada / Pêche et Océans Canada
    200 Kent Street, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0E6 / 200, rue Kent, Ottawa (ON) K1A 0E6
    min@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
    Telephone / Téléphone  613-992-3474
    Facsimile / Télécopieur 613-990-7292
    Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Canada

    Management of Steelhead in Area 8

    In addition to the mandatory release of all steelhead bycatch in Area 8, management measures require that the chum gillnet fishery only take place in daylight and that all vessels have a revival box to improve the release survival of any steelhead encountered.  Furthermore, until August 15, 2013, all gillnets in Dean Channel and the north half of Fisher Channel were required to be equipped with a minimum 100 centimetre deep weed line to minimize steelhead encounters.  This refers to the practice of suspending the net 100 centimetres below the surface of the water to avoid catching surface swimming species such as steelhead; this practice is consistent with studies that show that steelhead travel near the surface.  This requirement was extended past August 15, 2013, due to the low return of Dean River steelhead.  There were only 19 vessel days in total for the months of July and August in Dean Channel, and many of these were only partial days. 

    As of August 20, 2013, the total number of steelhead caught in both the gillnet fishery and the seine fishery was 328 – all of which were released.  These steelhead encounters represent less than 0.1 percent of the overall catch in the gillnet (290 fish) and seine (38 fish) fisheries.  Most of the fishing effort was at the south end of Dean Channel (over 20 miles away from the Dean River) where the steelhead origin was likely the Bella Coola River.

  • Regulations without Enforcement, or worse obfuscation and rationalization, has been increasing all over NA in many realms. Someone asked me today how can employees stand to work in such regulatory jobs within sight of the unenforcement and duplicity? Well they need jobs and it does cost them in health and happiness.
    Of note is the DFO enforcement person stating that they have not enforced these Regs in a very long time!
    The photos from the Somass and the story of no shows for in season meetings is simply stunning. What type of a people have we become when we are witting accomplices to such things? And oh yeah it is much the same in the US.

    Wow. That is about all I can conjure up beyond sheer disgust.
    Take heart…..all major changes in a civil society have been effected by a very small group….yes, it took a seeming long time.

    Bravo on this detailed Post, Bob.
    Thx

  • Neil – In theory your suggestion makes sense, but in reality do you really think a so called Liberal, Christy Clark government in charge would be any better? I don’t think so. In fact it could be worse. I have little respect for the DFO and the same goes for Christy Clarke and her entourage. I believe Clarke is just as corrupt or even more so that the DFO.

  • Lest I suffer exorcism, I will play the Devil’s Advocate here. If we agree that artificially propagated steelhead are a detriment to the well-being of wild steelhead, then… With such a large component of hatchery augmented steelhead returning to the Stamp/Somass river system for so many years now and “a hatchery program that has homogenized summer and winter stocks,” why is anyone concerned with the taking of these inferior fish?

    • No one is the least bit concerned about summer steelhead (wild or hatchery) in the Stamp system. That becomes abundantly clear when I consider the lack of response from any political figure I have contacted and the silence from the broad spectrum of sport fishing related interests. All any of them are interested in is how many sockeye and chinook they can harvest. We must remember, it isn’t just the Stamp fish at issue here. There are several other neighbouring stocks, far smaller historically than the Stamp’s that have also been hammered by commercial nets. If the Stamp isn’t on anyone’s radar, how do we think China Creek, Cous Creek, Nahmint River, etc. are faring? Ultimately though, I think the greater concern is how our federal government turns a blind eye to any fishery that involves First Nations. With the entire provincial steelhead angler licensee base less than 20,000 and over 2.5M Lower Mainland area bleeding hearts unfamiliar with and unaffected by such trivial items as steelhead but bombarded by media sympathetic (often justifiably so) toward First Nations, how do we think we’re going to make out trying to save a few wild steelhead here and there?

  • Thank you Bob for posting this. Here I will try a little different tact than the one I feel is necessary for the gong show happening on the Bulkely.

    Somehow I do not think that the clowns who are running the show on the Stamp will listen however. They have all been hooked on hatchery results for far too many years to even listen to the truth about what can be done or what it means to be stewards of a river system. The protection of what little is left of the wild summer run fish is not on their radar or in their current financial interests for that matter.

    I highly doubt whether they would even listen to us or consider the fact that in other places the move away from a seriously flawed hatchery approach to sport fishing is possible.

    Stopping the stocking of hatchery steelhead on the Cowichan is the best example here of what can happen. Even though Haig-Brown and others made a serious error in advocating and promoting the introduction of browns. Without a doubt the predation by this species as well as predation by fresh water non native O. mykiss has contributed greatly to anual slaughter of fry on the Cowichan, there are still decent numbers of wild steelhead in existance on that river! Which is amazing considering all the other factors at play.

    Here is hoping now that el nino finally has turned around that some snow pack stays past March on the Beauforts for the Stamp. The past 6 to ten years of drought have contributed greatly to the problem as has the denuding of the mountain timber ecology and capacity of the entire forest to retain moisture during dry seasons.

    On the Cowichan the denuding of hill 60 and Heather mountain has also lead to issues with water retention during drought. I have hoped beyond hope that the great Brown and rainbow fishing during the movement of fry and the early caddis and spinner fall would finally return to something of what it once was on this river.

    Last year at least the news media had Joe Saysell speak up about how bad things were getting on the Cowichan. Now if we can only start to get the clowns in Port Alberni to listen to reason then there might be a chance to affect change in a positive manner. It is not too late to save the summer runs there if we see a swing to a more normal level of stream flow during the summer months. Even the upper reaches and tributaries of some Vancouver Island streams like the Klanawa still harbour ghosts if you know where and when to look and know the west coast well. The Gordon still has ghosts as does the Harris and perhaps the upper San Juan. Whether or not the upper Chemainus or the Koksilah have a chance to see a return of the ghosts might not happen until the human race goes extinct however.

    Yes despite the mess we have made and the climate change they still exist, for how long depends greatly upon us and how we value their existence.

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