Fish that never got caught.
To all of you out there who love steelhead, especially those revered Thompson fish, you need to pay attention to what our Federal Government’s top gun for fisheries has said in the letter I have posted below. This is Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc’s response to the joint letter sent by the four prominent recreational fishing advocacy groups in British Columbia earlier this fall (posted here on Oct 6 “Tears for the Thompson”) when it became abundantly clear there was an extreme conservation concern looming for not just the Thompson and Chilcotin fish but also four other closely related stocks that may as well be considered extirpated at this point. Before reading Minister LeBlanc’s letter, here are a few points that will help interpret what he is or isn’t saying.
- Note that it took two months to respond. In that time there were numerous commercial and First Nations net fishing openings all along the Interior Fraser Steelhead (IFS) migration corridors from Johnstone Strait between northern Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland coast to Hope, 100 miles up the Fraser River. Those openings targeted enhanced chum salmon destined for east coast Vancouver Island streams and, more importantly, for lower Fraser River tributaries. The chum salmon run timing overlaps the IFS run timing 100%.
- The letter comes well after it is crystal clear the status of the two notable IFS steelhead stocks, Thompson and Chilcotin are so deep into the extreme conservation concern zone that his own staff have been an integral part of defining, it is nothing short of negligent to fail to acknowledge how severe that crisis is.
- How nice that his department “considers” steelhead. That language is a bit old to say the least. Its the same that has been applied to the Skeena, the Dean and the Fraser for years if not decades. Dear Mr. LeBlanc, you just don’t get it. This year was not just any year. There is a monumental difference between protecting 80% of the run “with a high degree of certainty” (anyone know what that means?) when there are several thousand steelhead than when there are 200. And, never mind the two day gill net fishery for those with a conventional commercial fishing license. What about all the FN fisheries that occurred throughout the entire IFS run timing over a much greater length of the Fraser River, not to mention (again) all those seine and gill net openings over those 200+ miles between Johnstone Strait and the mouth of the Fraser?
OK, on with the letter so readers can judge for themselves if I’m overreacting:
Mr. Rodney Clapton
BC Federation of Drift Fishers Mr. Rich Ronyecz
BC Federation of Fly Fishers Mr. Brian Braidwood
The Steelhead Society of BC
Mr. Harvey Andrusak
BC Wildlife Federation
c/o Michelle Galang
< firstname.lastname@example.org >
Dear Mr. Clapton and co-signatories:
Thank you for your correspondence of September 26, 2017, regarding the Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead stocks. I regret the delay in responding.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) understands and shares your concern for the conservation of weak stocks and takes the conservation of Interior Fraser River steelhead (a stock group including Thompson and Chilcotin populations) seriously. DFO co-operates with the Province of British Columbia on the management of steelhead populations. Co-operative activities involve the sharing of data and the exchange of scientific information, as well as further development of assessment and management tools. The Department considers conservation objectives for steelhead populations in the management of Pacific salmon fisheries.
DFO is aware that steelhead populations face several diverse threats, including poor marine survival, habitat impacts or degradation, shifts in life history (anadromous versus non- anadromous forms), climate change and potential impacts from interceptions in salmon fisheries. The Department’s management objective for Interior Fraser River steelhead is to minimize the impact of Canadian fisheries managed by DFO, taking into account conservation concerns for these populations.
For Fraser River commercial gill net fisheries, the strategy is to protect 80 percent of the Interior Fraser River steelhead run with a high degree of certainty. The result is a limited one- to two-day opening in late October after the majority of steelhead are expected to have passed the lower Fraser River. Additionally, other commercial south coast fisheries are required to implement measures to minimize harm to all steelhead caught incidentally in fisheries targeting other species.
Now, a couple of closing points.
- “DFO is developing a model to evaluate the exposure of IFS to all fisheries in both marine areas and the Fraser River.” Do Minister LeBlanc and his underlings who obviously prepared his response think this is going to do something to address the problems? Is the Minister going to close all those intercepting commercial and First Nations fisheries according to his oft touted precautionary principle to STOP the carnage while the model is being developed or is it going to be the same old same old status quo while the last of the IFS slip into oblivion? When is conservation conservation Mr. Minister?
- A “steelhead sub-committee” of the Integrated Harvest Planning Committee for salmon. OK, now I get it. I always thought the acronym of import was IFMP (Integrated Fishery Management Plan) and that was DFO’s forum for addressing conservation concerns prior to the fishing season. Now I understand the agenda is harvest planning for salmon. I wonder who gets to participate in the steelhead sub-committee and what credentials they bring to the table.
- We’re supposed to be comforted by the remarks re COSEWIC? IFS steelhead are on the priority candidate list and if they get past that there would be a call for preparation of new status reports a year from now? If that even happens it would be another two years at least before there was even a recommendation to list IFS as endangered (I’ll assume they would get past the threatened designation). Then there is the Cabinet review process beyond that and all sorts of escape routes to avoid doing the obvious. Tell us again what happens in the meantime. By then Rome will be in ashes, cold ashes and all that will remain is to pick through them for artifacts to place on museum shelves.
Remember Minister LeBlanc, this will all go down on your watch. You will not be forgotten.