The news of the conservation status of Thompson River steelhead is obviously well disseminated through the community of those who know about these remarkable fish. Even the Department of Fisheries and Oceans appears to have agreed they needed to “do something”. And, what might that be? Check it out for yourselves at:
Start with FN 1156 issued on Oct 30. That would be the one that states:
“In order to ensure management objectives on interior Fraser steelhead stocks of concern are achieved, no further Area E fisheries in Area 29 are scheduled for the balance of the 2017 season.”
Area 29 is basically the DFO statistical area that brackets the entry to the Fraser River. So, with the worst ever showing of steelhead in DFO’s test fishing nets short miles upstream (zero in the chinook net for the third year in succession and only four in the typically more representative chum net) DFO announced there would be no further commercial gill net openings in the Fraser River for the balance of the season. Sounds appropriate, right?
Forgive me DFO but this is just a bit too much to swallow quietly. Nary a single steelhead was caught after Oct 19. It was abundantly obvious at that stage there was not just an extreme conservation concern but borderline extirpation staring you between the eyes. Still, it took almost two more weeks to seize the opportunity to make yourselves appear to be responsible fisheries resource managers by announcing you all of a sudden care about steelhead. Meanwhile, between October 19 and today you have announced gill net and seine fisheries as well as an aboriginal “economic opportunity fisheries are open until further notice in the Cowichan River approaches. Just because these areas are within sight of the Fraser mouth is no reason to worry about that last Interior Fraser steelhead that might be swimming by. Now, remind me, what were those management objectives for IFS that you are concerned be achieved?
It doesn’t end there. FN 1165 rubs more raw nerves. This one is another aboriginal salmon economic opportunity fishery for 14 First Nations targeting chum between Kanaka Creek and Hope. No problem though, they’re using beach seines and “all non-target species will be released back to the water alive and unharmed”. Then, just hours ago, DFO announced another commercial Aboriginal salmon economic opportunity fishery (FN 1180) in essentially the same area decreed as closed to commercial fishermen for the season in FN 1165. The steelhead related caveat is all too familiar:
“Opportunities to harvest chum salmon will be constrained by management objectives for Interior Fraser steelhead which is a stock of concern presently co-migrating in the Fraser River.”
Again, though, there couldn’t possibly be any legitimate concerns because seine vessels are involved and there is an abundance of conditions associated with this and the other fisheries noted above. Given the history of DFO’s ability to monitor these fisheries to ensure compliance with those conditions (e.g. handling and release of non-target species, catch reporting) I need a bit of convincing the paper objectives will ever be realized. Commercial and FN fishers are well aware full disclosure of steelhead catches does nothing but jeopardize their future opportunities. Foxes guarding the hens may sell in the boardrooms but not among those who have spent any significant amount of time observing these fisheries in action.
The broader, longer term consequences of these fisheries are what needs to be addressed. I’ve already said it is too late for the 2017 return of Thompson steelhead and their even worse off cousins from Chilcotin, Stein, Nahatlatch and Bridge. Think about it. Fisheries that never existed historically have now become economic opportunities. Chum salmon were once treated with disdain by FN fishers but now we have chum roe that fetches ridiculously high prices in foreign markets driving what people perceive to be historic rights and practices. This is all about $$$$$$$$. Ask what use is being made of gill netted (or beach seined) chum after the eggs have been stripped from the females. Ask for legitimate evidence of any significance attached to chum salmon by First Nations before sockeye and chinook began their downward spiral and the roe of all those enhanced Fraser chums became valuable. I’m not talking oral history here, lets see verifiable records.
Remember, there are 203 recognized First Nations in British Columbia. Their population is growing at an upward rate that approximates the negative growth rate of salmon (except chum) and steelhead populations. The fish supply is already insufficient to meet the traditional FN demands in at least the southern half of the BC coast. Expectations being created by governments are increasingly unsustainable. Thompson steelhead are destined to be the first, once treasured victim. Our federal government doesn’t even pay credible lip service to steelhead, Thompson or otherwise, and our provincial people continue to be missing in action. Does anybody care?