The following is a direct quote of a news release that arrived earlier this week. I include the full release lest I be accused of cherry picking or quoting anything out of context. Read on.
Improvement in Fisheries Management needed as Skeena River Faces Low Sockeye Return. Skeena First Nations and Recreational Fishers Urge Co-operation and Caution
July 12, 2017
Terrace, BC – First Nations along the Skeena Watershed and the Sport Fishing Advisory Board are seeking improvements in fisheries management in the Skeena Watershed to better prepare for years of exceptional low returns such as this year.
The rate of return of sockeye to the Skeena River this year is half the level of 2013 which was the worst on record. The current estimated total escapement of sockeye from the Tyee Test Fishery which is used to estimate escapement was about 68,000 by July 10th, while the escapement by the same date in 2013 was 94,000. The avg escapement by July 10th for the previous 6 years is 252,720. The current return is below the threshold for opening First Nations Food, Social and Ceremonial Fisheries.
Charlie Muldon of the Gitksan Watershed Authority said, “First Nations throughout the Skeena watershed have historically relied on sockeye for the nutritional, social, economic, and cultural wellbeing of our communities. We will not be fishing for sockeye this year, and while next year the run should be better, we must all commit to longer term planning to better prepare if 2021 turns out to be just as bad.“
Due to these low predictions, First Nations that depend on sockeye for their food, social, and ceremonial needs are fishing for other species such as chinook and steelhead instead, and are taking measures to avoid Skeena-bound sockeye, by using selective fishing methods such as large mesh sizes, and only fishing in specific areas and times.
Over the past year, First Nations on the Skeena have worked together to plan their fisheries, and have extended that spirit of collaboration to the recreational sector. With the increased effort for chinook and steelhead by First Nations on the river, First Nations and representatives of the recreational fishing community are discussing options to allow both groups harvest opportunities. These areas include popular sport fishing areas such as the Lower Kalum (at the confluence with Skeena), Ferry Island, and China Bar.
“The Skeena watershed hosts an internationally renowned sports fishery and provides recreational opportunity and economic benefits for local residents alike,” said Urs Thomas, Chair of the North Coast Sport Fishing Advisory Committee. “The strength of this fishery lies in the ability of all stakeholders to work together to manage this important resource. I hope in future that fishing plans and decisions on the Skeena can be made locally so we have buy-in from the First Nations and Rec sector and not by the Minister in Ottawa.”
Representatives of First Nations and the Sport Fishing Advisory Committee are encouraging cooperation and mutual respect on the river. “We hope that DFO recognizes the hard work both sectors put into collaborating on our fishing plans this year, and how we have gone above and beyond to reach out to develop workable solutions Muldon said. “DFO needs to take responsibility and provide the necessary resources to ensure the fishing season goes smoothly.
Skeena First Nations Fisheries Technical Committee is comprised of technical personnel of First Nations up and down the Skeena Watershed. This group advises First Nations leadership on technical aspects of fisheries management throughout the watershed. The SFAB has been the official advisory body to DFO since it was constituted in 1964. The SFAB provides an inclusive and broadly representative process for the views of the recreational fishing community. There are twenty-three local sport fishing advisory committees throughout the province with representatives from local recreational fishing interests.
For further information please contact:
Charlie Muldon, Co-ordinator Gitksan Watershed Authority, (778)-202-1458 email@example.com
Urs Thomas, Chair, North Coast Sports Fishing Advisory Committee, (250) – 557-4325 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ryneld Starr Skeena Fisheries Commission 250-877-3089 email@example.com
Why should I or anyone else close to Skeena steelhead be concerned? After all, we have the renowned Sport Fish Advisory Board (SFAB), our conservation focused federal government and the ultimate conservationists, our First Nations community in lock step on surgically managing the Skeena salmon and steelhead fisheries. Lets dig a little deeper though.
The SFAB in northern British Columbia has not been around since 1964, as implied. It sprung to life in the 1980s and was virtually entirely focused on the rapidly developing commercial recreational fishery on the islands then known as the Queen Charlottes. I can say this because I was the sole provincial government representative at every one of those SFAB meeting for more than a decade. Steelhead were almost impossible to get on the agenda and First Nations issues, even if recognized, were carefully avoided. As time dragged on and the domination of the north coast SFAB agenda by the ocean based commercial recreational fishery operators continued, the province took the decision to abandon the process. Instead it adopted its own consultative process that dealt specifically with freshwater fisheries issues under its control.
Much transpired in subsequent years but the end game was the proponents of a kill fishery for Skeena steelhead assumed the throne on all things steelhead at the SFAB table. That group is now dominated by the people who have been relentless in their pursuit of killing wild, angler caught steelhead on both Haida Gwaii and the Skeena system. Those same individuals boycott the provincial consultative process because they choose to pretend the SFAB is the only game in town. DFO is entirely receptive to the notion the voice of the steelhead angling community is fully represented at their SFAB meetings. It supports their immovable position there isn’t and never has been any steelhead conservation issue in the Skeena. Further, when the First Nations and the perceived voice of anglers enter into discussions around collaboratively managing the recreational fishery in the Skeena, DFO will be perceived as the proverbial white knight by all those who don’t know any better.
But, what about those steelhead that are now going to be targeted in replacement for chinook and sockeye that are too threatened to support food, social and ceremonial needs of a rapidly growing and politically powerful First Nations Community?
Keep in mind the chinook run to the Skeena this year is very nearly the worst ever recorded since the inception of the test fishery in 1956. There aren’t enough of them to satisfy the food, social and ceremonial needs of the FN communities, even if they caught every last one. Then factor in it is pure nonsense to suggest a set or drifted gill net can discriminate between a sockeye and a chinook by adjusting mesh size. I’ve been there enough times to photo document just how deadly any of those nets are. Independent of the size or species of fish, they are all equally dead when nets are retrieved. Reduced numbers of nets is a start but those numbers would have to be a fraction of what they are presently to save any fish. Otherwise the remaining nets just catch more fish each.
A quick glance at the estimated numbers of sockeye versus steelhead getting into the lower Skeena puts things into sharper focus. The ratio of the former to the latter has ranged from 18:1 to 72:1 over the past six years (2011 through 2016). Three of those years saw sockeye escapements below to far below the level prescribed to satisfy the requirements to fill the Babine spawning channels that have been the primary source of the Skeena’s well known mixed stock fishery management dilemma for decades. At this point in the 2017 season the sockeye to steelhead ratio is 167:1. These are not figures available to only insiders. They can be pulled off DFO web sites in mere minutes. If the SFAB people who are now endorsing harvest of steelhead to compensate for a dearth of those historically preferred sockeye aren’t aware of those figures and their implications they are woefully unqualified to be claiming they represent the freshwater recreational fishery. By the way, the overlap in run timing between sockeye and steelhead is major. How could one be targeted while the other is unaffected?
I don’t have any magic bullet to fix any of the problems described above. All I can state with certainty is the Skeena steelhead resource cannot begin to fill the void created by failed chinook and sockeye stocks. If conservation is really the common goal, everyone needs to stop fishing. Standing firm on gill net selectivity, times and places where nets may be employed, release of non-target species and steelhead catch and release for recreational fishers, singly or in combination, will never achieve that goal.