Steelhead Conservation, DFO Style

Just when you think a corner may have been turned with respect to focusing media attention to raise public and political awareness on the plight of those interior Fraser steelhead comes another announcement by our federal government’s fishery managers who would have us believe they subscribe to the gospel of conservation. Decide for yourselves how seriously these people take the all time worst conservation emergency facing what is arguably the most revered steelhead stock in British Columbia. Does the  projected escapement of less than 200 steelhead to seed the vastness of the Chilcotin and Thompson steelhead habitat resonate with anyone in the federal camp? Was it not DFO’s own staff who have collaborated with the provincial authorities on all the modelling exercises that generated this number?

Fishery Notice


ABORIGINAL – Salmon: Economic Opportunities


FN1198-ABORIGINAL – Salmon: Economic Opportunities – Chum – Area 29 and Region 2 – Lower Fraser Area

A commercial economic opportunity fishery is authorized for Aitchelitz, Cheam, Kwaw-kwaw-apilt, Peters, Shxwha:y Village, Shxw’ow’hamel, Skowkale, Skwah, Soowahlie, Squiala, Sumas, Tzeachten, Yakweakwioose and the Yale First Nation for chum salmon using beach seines in the Fraser River.   This fishery is open daily for beach seines from 08:00 hours to 16:00 hours, Friday November 10, Monday November 13, and Tuesday November 14, 2017 in the following areas: portions of Area 29 and Region 2, the main stem of the Fraser River from Kanaka Creek to Hope Bridge. Only individuals designated by the Aitchelitz, Cheam, Kwaw-kwaw-apilt, Peters, Shxwha:y Village, Shxw’ow’hamel, Skowkale, Skwah, Soowahlie, Squiala, Sumas, Tzeachten, Yakweakwioose and the Yale First Nation are authorized to participate in this fishery. All aspects of the communal licence will be enforced. Fish harvesters are advised to contact their band for a copy of the conditions of their fishing licence.

NOTES: The target species in this fishery is chum salmon. Retention of hatchery marked coho salmon (i.e. fish with a healed scar in place of the adipose fin) caught incidentally is also permitted. There will be non-retention of chinook, sockeye, pink, wild coho salmon (i.e. adipose fin is present), steelhead and sturgeon. 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. All non-target species will be released back to the water alive and unharmed. It is mandatory that all salmon retained under the authority of this licence be transported to the nearest landing station and made available for inspection.   A monitor shall be present during all landing of catch to record the number and weight of each species of salmon delivered.

OK, 14 First Nations fishing 100 km of river under communal licenses with aspects that will be enforced. Heaven knows what those aspects are and who might be enforcing them. It seems a little strange that “fish harvesters are advised to contact their band for a copy of the conditions of their license”. I wonder how many do and/or what the consequences would be if they didn’t. I wonder if anyone even knows how many fish harvesters are out there. Isn’t it comforting to know these chum harvest opportunities are constrained by management objectives for those steelhead? Might I ask how? Who are the monitors that will be present during all landing of catch? There must be a lot of them given 14 First Nations over 100 km. And, where might all those landing stations be? Can we see what a landed catch report looks like? Does it speak to all the fish released or is it just a chum corpse count?

No doubt DFO will offer that beach seines do no harm. Obviously beach seines are preferred over set and drifted gill nets but only if there is at least token vigilance by someone a little more independent than the fishers themselves. Give us some confidence in this respect DFO. Convince us that you take conservation as something other than lip service and deception.

Then, above all else, someone out there please share with us why chum salmon are suddenly a target species for First Nations that traditionally treated them with disdain? We know the roe is highly valuable in the non-traditional, non-First Nations cultures and marketplaces but what do these latter day economic opportunity fishers do with the other 80% or more of the tonnage of chum flesh removed from the water? How traditional is that?

Remember what we’re talking about here:

The arrow points to what does not appear to be a chum salmon. Perhaps its one of those legally harvestable sans adipose fin coho.

Comments 4

  • Bob,
    In my view, the folks (federal, state, provincial, tribal) responsible for fisheries management over the past 100+ years should either be in jail or Hell. As you well know, the Thompson/Chilcoltin steelhead collapses are symptomatic of a much broader problem. A review of the status of wild salmon and steelhead underscores the fact that past and current management practices have and continue to contribute directly to the collapse and extinction of stocks. Over vast stretches of their native ranges (Alaska and Russian Far East exempted) wild salmon and steelhead have already been extirpated or are on the verge of near-term extinction. Consider the current status of wild steelhead in several representative, iconic steelhead rivers:

    River historic present decline
    • Columbia/Snake 2,000,000+ 30,000 (<1,000 B-run) – 98%
    • Stillaguamish 100,000 900 -99.1%
    • Puget Sound 600,000 15,000 -97.5%
    • Hoh 50,000 3,500 -93%
    • Queets 60,000 4,500 -93%
    • San Juaquin 1,000,000 -0- -100%
    • Eel 150,000 1,000 – 99.3%
    • Thompson 50,000 133 -99.7%
    • Dean River 30,000 4,000 -86.7%
    • Kvachina (1994/2017) 2,000 10,500 +525%
    • Snotalvayam 1,500 7,500 +500%
    • Utkholok 2,500 25,000 +1,000%
    Situk, AK (1933/2017) <100 12,000 +12,000%

    By any objective analysis, it is plain that if current practices are continued, most US Lower 48 and southern BC wild populations of steelhead will be extinct in the near future. Radical changes to the prevailing management paradigm must be adopted quickly. Managing recovery programs cannot be left to those who are responsible for current conditions. We don't leave captains who run their ships aground in command. We fire them. As noted above there are models which work — Situk, Kvachina, Snotalvayam, Utkholok, etc. There are plenty of qualified folks who are a highly strategic and experienced who can and should replace those currently managing these PUBLIC resources.
    Pete Soverel
    President, The Conservation Angler

  • Not arguing with the intention of the post however the estimates for 40k for the Dean and 50k for the Thompson are both lacking data.

  • Dean River: Ithe post predicated the Dean population at 30,000 not 40,000. The 30,000 level is supported by BC MOE/DFO data which pegged the Dean population in the 1970’s: +/- 28000 with commercial interception rate of about 65%. The run had already been subject to high levels of interception from commercial fisheries for decades. Certainly, historic Dean steelhead population was substantially larger than 30,000. Consider the US Fish Commission 1898 steelhead population estimate for the much smaller Stillaguamish River of about 98,000 which was “already greatly dimished.”

    Thompson: similarly, 1950’s population: +/- 25,000 which had also been subject to commercial interceptions for at least 60 years. By the 1950’s, most US/southern BC populations had already been depleted by 50%-90%. In any case, if you prefer, compare the present to the already depleted 1950’s Thompson population to the current: the decline is only 99.5% rather than 99.7%

  • Yesterday, I spoke with a gentleman who is linked to the Skeetchestn First Nation. I asked him what he expected this year’s Deadman River return might amount to. He replied “There is very little left!” Based on press estimates of just some two hundred steelhead returning to the Thompson, I fully expect that few will be Deadman’s fish. Historically, that storied run representing about twenty-five percent of the entire Thompson escapement. Possibly, just fifty fish might come back this year. Twenty years ago, in 1996, I volunteered over a weekend to help man the counting fence at Docksteaders Ranch. Over the study period of 39 days, one-hundred and eighty-two steelhead passed through the fence. Various sources tell me that in those years some 600 to 700 steelhead typically returned to the Deadman. Those numbers are of course highly variable and likely, arguable estimates. What is certain, is that it wasn’t long before the drastic declines began. Interestingly, my contact mentioned that the Skeetchestn First Nation had arranged for the cryofreezing of Deadman steelhead milt some twenty years ago. It was not, for technical reasons, then possible to preserve eggs. That may be changing. There have been breakthroughs on the egg question. Anyone interested might search for this article. 13 July, 2017 – Science and Tech News, Daily Mail, U.K. “Cryogenic breakthrough.” It is startling stuff – though quite preliminary and may, for steelhead, compare with colonizing Mars to save mankind. The scientists paired tiny gold nanoparticles with anti-freeze agents to reduce the growth of egg damaging ice crystals during freezing. Well, not to let that remote stuff distract us, there is a battle to engage in.

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