My Hurting Head

The next step in our Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s oppressive process leading us into the 2018 fisheries arrived a couple of days ago. Its called the PRELIMINARY 2018 SALMON OUTLOOK. Here we have 28 pages worth of forecasts about various stocks and species up and down the coast of British Columbia. Those forecasts are blanketed with indecisiveness and replete with qualifiers and disclaimers. Why wouldn’t they be, they’re rarely accurate? Here’s an example of what I mean by disclaimers:

Final stock-specific fishing plans described in the annual Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMP) may be different from the generic scenarios described here. Stock-specific plans are informed by available science and management information, the specific nature of fisheries on a given stock, allocation policy, consultation input and other considerations. Actual fishing opportunities are subject to in-season information and are announced in-season via fishery notice or other official communications from DFO.

One wonders why all the effort to assemble and distribute such Preliminary Outlooks when they clearly have no bearing on what happens in-season. Alas, the justification for continuing this preliminary outlook process that has now been with us for 16 years is to allow all those stakeholders out there to plan their seasons.

Lets take a bit deeper look at this. I’ll start with an interesting illustration of salmon landings by the commercial fisheries in BC over the past 60 years. This showed up in a recent message from Ecotrust citing data compiled from DFO’s own catch statistics (1951-2012) and Statistics Canada (prior to 1950 when there was no species breakdown available). The figures are in thousands of tonnes and represent landings by all gear types over the period of record. Of course, what we can’t determine from this illustration is the proportion of the total available supply of the various species that was caught in any given year. One can surmise, however, that the catch data is a reasonable reflection of abundance. From what appears to be a relatively stable catch from the earliest records through until the early 1990s, things have changed dramatically. Note the dominance of pink and chum salmon in recent times, the lowest value species by far. If the landed value of the catch was included here, it would demonstrate further just how far down the path to oblivion the commercial fishing industry has gone. I can’t help but notice the similarity between the period of steep decline in salmon landings and the period during which DFO’s golden age of process has flourished. Perhaps a bit too much of the budget dedicated to the boardrooms and not enough to the field?

 

Now, let’s see if we can connect some dots between preliminary outlooks and those IFMPs yet to come. After all, this is about planning. Forgive me for talking steelhead here but that would seem to be a species of concern, especially given all the effort that has been focused on DFO lately to address the critical conservation concern over Interior Fraser Steelhead.

So, what do we have in that 28 pager from DFO? First, the word steelhead never appears. Second, the forecasts for the stocks and species of greatest concern in terms of collateral damage to steelhead are uniformly bad. I’m talking about Skeena and Fraser chinook and sockeye. The collateral damage stems from restrictions on commercial and First Nations fisheries targeting traditionally preferred sockeye and chinook in both the Skeena and the Fraser. Commercial fishermen are easy targets. Not so FN fishers. Under similar circumstances over the past two years DFO has deliberately opened fisheries that sanction (encourage!) FNs to target fish whose run timing overlaps steelhead in a worst case scenario. Glaring examples included the 2017 late season sockeye fisheries in the Skeena approaches closed to commercial fishermen and in the Skeena River itself. DFO also encouraged Skeena FNs to target coho in replacement for sockeye and chinook. Coho and steelhead overlap on the Skeena much as chum and steelhead do on the Fraser. On the Fraser it was even worse in that those IFS teetering on the brink of extirpation were subjected to intensive FN fishing for chum roe throughout their entire migration run timing window. None of those FN fisheries are the subject of any pre-season planning by anyone the least bit familiar with steelhead. That can only be taken as wilful blindness, incompetence or both on the part of those whom we pay to manage our fisheries.

Knowing what we do about the status of steelhead up and down the coast last year and very likely for the coming season, what “planning” is going into measures to address low abundance? DFO has invited an army of stakeholders to its various forums and tables to talk plans. Just what do any of the participants suggest? Has anyone ever heard a guide, ocean or freshwater, suggest softening his/her footprint in light of expected abundances? Over the many years, I’ve witnessed uncounted attempts by steelhead guides to obtain more rod days and discourage competition while everyone else guts it out in efforts to sustain the supply of fish those freshwater commercial fishermen take a living from. Should guided rod days be adjusted according to the fish supply of fish available? Is that unreasonable? What say you Province? Oops, I forgot, the Province doesn’t partake of these management planning processes.

The entire steelhead advocacy community in BC is strongly behind outright angling closures in all times and places where IFS are expected to be present in 2018. The Council on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is expected to release the results of it emergency review of the IFS situation imminently. It is hard to imagine that review will not recommend listing IFS as endangered under Species At Risk Act provisions. Numerous letters have been written by a broad spectrum of conservation interests in BC demanding DFO take significant measures to address IFS conservation. All this and nary a mention of the word steelhead in that Preliminary Outlook document, the supposed basis for the IFMP processes to follow. I humbly suggest the planning system is sorely in need of a major overhaul. I’ll also suggest (again) the Province needs a serious wake up call.

Comments 33

  • No mention of steelhead tells me that the DFO is wilfully blind to them (Oh, right, I forget, they are a provincial responsibility). Behind all these planning exercises, I see the footprint of ‘The Great One-Eyed Arbitrator’ who sees endless opportunity, and reassuring authority, in parcelling out the reaming spoils to the often bickering F.N. and commercial fishing interests. What department could not feast forever on that prospect? A mighty role indeed.

  • Thanks again Bob for the background that allows you to wade through the dross of government process and reminding us again that ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’!
    Its time to throw a wrench in the works to stop the Merry-go-round from the same journey.

  • It is pretty obvious to me that DFO is intentionally harvesting steelhead to extinction and using FN as their vehicle to ‘get it done’. Let’s face it, the sooner steelhead are no longer in the equation for DFO, they can then go about their business of promoting the harvest of sockeye and chum, etc. with total impunity. I wonder if they feel the same way about chinook and coho which are two species that they are supposed to actively manage and which are declining in abundance? Speaking of managing, isn’t DFO responsible for the protection of ALL fish species and their habitats? Should DFO biologists not carry the title of fish biologist instead of fisheries biologist? Perhaps that might get them to think about what their real mandate is which is not only about setting harvest limits for a few species, rather ensuring the protection of all fish species.
    As Bob mentions in his last paragraph and sentence, where is the Province? I’d suggest that there isn’t enough NARCAN to wake them up and initiate action of any kind. At the very least, the Province needs to address the ridiculous number of guides and rod days on Skeena waters.

  • I guess a real question is : What year did BC allow Drum Seiners in Johnstone Straights and on the west coast … is there a link up with the graph,? food for thought >

    • I’d have to do some checking but I know the drum seiners have been around for a long time. The stern ramping arrangement that increased their efficiency beyond all the standard hydraulics associated with drums arrived in the late 1980s. Frankly, I don’t think the drums were a tipping point. Those seines had free reign, especially in the narrow confines of Johnstone Strait (long seasons, beach tie offs, more days per week), for many years before the big declines in salmon landings manifested themselves. As I said in the post, we don’t know how great a proportion of the total fish available is represented by the time series information shown. It isn’t impossible that catches held up reasonably well longer than the abundance of fish did simply because an increasing proportion of them was being harvested. Sooner or later the supply side suffers though and thats when the big declines show up. Regardless of how much of what force is to blame, we are where we are and all the planning in the world is not going to reverse that trend………unless the plan is to stop fishing, period! Wouldn’t that be an interesting test? It certainly worked for coho (for awhile) in 1998 when Fisheries Minister David Anderson took the bull by the horns.

  • Bob- Give me a call to discuss– I have some additional info for you that will be of interest. I think it is time for a large-scale strategy session for steelhead… and the other key species.

    • Thanks for the heads up David. I’ll be bringing up the essentials of our conversation with some of the people I feel are most likely to be prepared to engage in the sort of session you are advocating. To be continued.

  • Bob: as a former commercial fisherman with over 30 years experience in most sectors, a former fresh and saltwater fishing guide, streamkeeper and salmon and steelhead advocate, former director of the Save Our Fish Foundation, former director and founding member of the Pitt River and Area Watershed Network, I have some experience in how are Salmon and steelhead stocks are harvested and managed in beautiful B.C.
    Here’s the way I see it:

    DFO, YOU’RE FIRED!

    When are British Columbians finally going to say enough is enough and kick DFO off their idiotic, eastern throne?

    Over the last 50 years, many of British Columbia’s wild salmon and steelhead stocks have been slowly but surely sliding downhill and now sadly teeter precariously on the brink of extinction.

    DFO has not only failed miserably to live up to its mandate of protecting, conserving and enhancing British Columbia’s wild salmon and steelhead stocks, they have failed the citizens of British Columbia time, after time, after time with their incompetence and a complete lack of good judgement and common sense.

    While the top-heavy DFO has cut the funding to the bone for wild salmon and steelhead and their vitally important habitat, they are now poised to dole out millions of taxpayer dollars to help fish farms that are scientifically proven to be destroying wild salmon stocks with diseases like Piscine Reovirus (PRV.)
    In doing so, DFO is deliberately ruining the lives of people that depend on wild salmon runs for all-important sustenance and livelihoods.

    Make no mistake, DFO is in the back pocket of the foreign corporations running BC’s net pen fish farms and has quietly chosen to promote aquaculture over essential wild salmon and steelhead stocks. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that once DFO has mis-managed BC’s wild salmon stocks into extinction, the door will be wide open for fish farmers and the government to have full control of a very valuable food source in an ever-growing, hungry world.

    The time has come for British Columbians to follow Alaska’s path to vibrant, sustainable salmon and steelhead runs. While Alaska had a record-breaking 291 million salmon harvested during the 2017 season, British Columbia’s salmon fleet remained tied to the dock until the last few weeks of the fall and then harvested low-valued chum salmon.

    What British Columbia needs immediately is caring, qualified, experienced BC citizens—with their fingers on the pulse of all salmon and steelhead runs—to manage, protect and enhance our precious and irreplaceable salmon and steelhead stocks for the benefit of all British Columbians and for future generations yet to come.

  • Bob,

    Seeing seals way up the Fraser now is a very common site. Bob, do you have any idea what the predation level is on steelhead in the Fraser? I read that seals did some damage to steelhead population in the USA and apparently it did not take very many.

    I have also theorized is there a point of no return for salmon populations. That if a population of them falls below a certain level that the stock will death spiral down to almost an extinction level. That they need protection in numbers and if that number falls below that biomass level that it just tanks down. IT would then take basically a statically rare event for them to ever climb back up to a big enough number where they would then have protection in numbers again. Just my crazy theory

    • I have no idea on what seals may be doing in the Fraser these days Matt but I think it would be a fair assumption there’s more of them than Thompson steelhead. One has received a lot of protection while the other has been abandoned. There is a fair amount of scientific literature out there that documents the level of seal and sea lion predation on the Columbia and also some good information on what those critters are doing to young chinook and steelhead originating from rivers flowing into lower Georgia Strait (Salish Sea). Some story there in terms of all the protection given them. If there were as many fish lovers as there are seal lovers our salmon and steelhead might stand a chance.

      I think you’re right in that there is a point of no return for steelhead populations. When you consider the vastness of the habitat once occupied by steelhead in major Fraser tributaries like the Thompson and Chilcotin and sprinkle roughly 200 spawners throughout you have to wonder if a male and female would ever find each other! Even if they did, they couldn’t begin to seed even a tiny fraction of the area that once produced steelhead.

  • Matthew K’s “crazy theory” (that stocks could go low enough that they could not recover isn’t crazy– it is a well-known ecological theory called depensation. Basically, the idea is that at low abundances the population also has lower survival. (An example is if adult spawning numbers drop off, they no longer bring back essential nutrients from the ocean that may fertilize headwaters and promote the growth of insect prey that the young can feed on). Whether this type of mechanism happens or not is hard to prove, but it is certainly a well-accepted ecological concept– so its far from crazy!

    I would be very interested in hearing of more evidence for seal predation in the Fraser– how far up are they ranging, and how many are there?

    • Thank you so much for turning me onto Depensation theory, What then has now led me into the Allee effect and Ecological threshold. One now has to wonder if the emegency sara panel does it job that the outcome is the population has been extirpated.

      Ecological mechanism

      Although numerous ecological mechanisms for Allee effects exist, the list of most commonly cited facilitative behaviors that contribute to Allee effects in the literature include: mate limitation, cooperative defense, cooperative feeding, and environmental conditioning. While these behaviors are classified in separate categories, note that they can overlap and tend to be context dependent (will operate only under certain conditions – for example, cooperative defense will only be useful when there are predators or competitors present).

      Mate limitation

      Mate limitation refers to the difficulty of finding a compatible and receptive mate for sexual reproduction at lower population size or density. This is generally a problem encountered by species that utilize passive reproduction and possess low mobility, such as plankton, plants and sessile invertebrates.[6] For example, wind-pollinated plants would have a lower fitness in sparse populations due to the lower likelihood of pollen successfully landing on a conspecific.

      Cooperative defense

      Another possible benefit of aggregation is to protect against predation by group anti-predator behavior. Many species exhibit higher rates of predator vigilance behavior per individual at lower density. This increased vigilance might result in less time and energy spent on foraging, thus reducing the fitness of an individual living in smaller groups.[8] One striking example of such shared vigilance is exhibited by meerkats.[9] Meanwhile, other species move in synchrony to confuse and avoid predators such as schools of sardines and flocks of starlings. The confusion effect that this herding behavior would have on predators will be more effective when more individuals are present.

      Cooperative feeding

      Certain species also require group foraging in order to survive. As an example, species that hunt in packs, such as the African wild dogs, would not be able to locate and capture prey as efficiently in smaller groups.

      Environmental conditioning / habitat alteration

      Environmental conditioning generally refers to the mechanism in which individuals work together in order to improve their immediate or future environment for the benefit of the species. This alteration could involve changes in both abiotic (temperature, turbulence, etc.) or biotic (toxins, hormones, etc.) environmental factors. Pacific salmon presents a unique case of such component Allee effects, where the density of spawning individuals can affect the survivability of the following generations. Spawning salmon carry marine nutrients they acquired from the ocean as they migrate to freshwater streams to reproduce, which in turn fertilize the surrounding habitat when they die, thus creating a more suitable habitat for the juveniles that would hatch in the following months.[10]

  • The seals have been present for many years now in the fraser. They are typically found around the mouths of salmon and steelhead bearing rivers at this time of year. I have seen seals as far up the fraser as hells gate in the summer and during the winter months have seen them in the Harrison, Chiliwack, Stave, Lillooet and Coquihalla.
    I have seen the seals as far up the Chiliwack as tamihi rapids.

    The harrison population seems to be eating trout during the winter as i have caught cutthroats with seal bite marks and scratches along with steelhead bearing the same.

    My guess is that the Chiliwack population survives on the steelhead that enter. During the winter with low flows the steelhead stage at the mouth where they would be easy prey.The estuary area is very shallow and is perfect ambush for seals to catch fish migrating in.

    This is merely observations of a fishing guide on the water and by no means scientific.

    • Very useful, Oliver– I for one appreciate the observations of people that have been in the field… you folks contribute additional potentially important data. I don’t have any solutions to suggest, but the first step would be to try and have someone do a population census of the number of seals that are present and then figure out what there potential impact on the local salmon populations might really be.

      If it is just one seal repeatedly re-sighted, then the impact won’t be that big… but if it is 10 or 50 seals it could be a lot more of an impact. There are people at UBC (Andrew Trites’ group) that would know how to do those sort of surveys well. Perhaps some of the funders could be lobbied to come up with the money to assess the potential impact. When this was done in the ocean, the result was that seal predation looks quite large– at least in some areas and at some times!

  • So many reasons for the cause of the extirpation of Thompson and Interior Steelhead. What I cannot understand is how can we point fingers at one and another and not deal with the real causes of the decline. Mr. Hooten is playing politics when he says DFO is responsible with the decline, yet he was in fact a manager of the Steelhead for the Province. That is not to say that he is responsible for the decline but many other factors are. I sat on the Recovery Strategy Program for Interior Coho under SARA, representing the recreation anglers of B.C. The same watershed that steelhead rear in. A year of working together all aspects of the industry, DFO, Province, Rec. anglers, conservationists, drew up a plan that was in fact based upon fact and science, yet turned down by government because it would impact big business and money interest over fish. Over the year that I was on this board, I understood that water management in the Thompson watershed and other watershed was one of the main issues. Steelhead must live for two years in the watershed before going out as smolts. The main rearing areas, Nicola, Deadmans and Bonaparte are drained of their water by irrigation, in some cases 24/7. I do not care how many fish return, low water, high water temperatures in these rearing areas are if not, one of the major causes of the decline. DFO has more info and knowledge of the watershed than does the Province, the Province in this area is more inclined to work toward lakes and still water fisheries . This is not say they
    are wrong but that is the way it is. So I say to those listening , go to the web and read the info regarding the Recovery Plan for Interior Coho and you will see just what is needed, and unfortunately will be rejected by Gov.

    • I agree with much of what you say here Bob but allow me to correct one thing. I never worked in either of the regions that support Interior Fraser steelhead so please don’t include me as any sort of force or influence in their status. If you don’t think DFO is the one, readily identifiable factor influencing the number of IFS that make it from the central north Pacific back to their river of origin, what is? What else do we actually have control over? How is it that bringing the DFO influence to a broader public’s attention in an effort to conserve what remains of those iconic fish is “playing politics”?

  • If we get preoccupied with quarrelling about the causes (and as stated, there are many) we lose sight of just who has the power to blunt interception in the short term and hopefully protect whatever is left of interior steelheads. The DFO is the sole agency able to do that. I live in Kamloops and am well aware of the impacts of irrigation and other degrading factors – some, well many, historical. There will be little impulse to correct those things if nothing is left of the runs, including main-stem Thompson pinks, coho and of course steelhead.

  • This has been going on for over 30 years David, and no action. It will take both DFO and the Province along with science to work together to draw up a plan. Unfortunately I think it is to late. The plan for Interior Coho was worked on and nothing was done. Sorry for being so pessimistic but it does not look good as long as Government, as Bob said, play politics.
    The river should have been closed years ago to let these fish have a chance to reproduce but it stayed open, catching them over and over again. Farmers water 24/7 and no action, by-catch on the Fraser no action, fish farms it goes on and on and no action. Good luck to all those that are trying to get some form of action/plan.

    • We’re on the same page Bob. Whereas the future of the Interior Fraser steelhead stocks does not look bright, there has never been anywhere near the effort directed toward them than there is at this very moment. As I’ve said numerous times, this is the hill to die on. If we can’t get all players on board to right the ship on what is clearly the most desperate steelhead conservation issue in the history of this province, what hope for the Dean, Skeena, Stamp/Somass……..or a growing list of other steelhead and salmon stocks?

  • It’s a Sunday so I feel the impulse to sermonize about rights and responsibilities. I had always thought that the Feds were responsible for steelhead in the ocean and the Province in fresh water. I was wrong. Fortunately, Today, I discovered a DFO publication, one intended for prosecutors, (A Practical Guide to the Fisheries Act …) that has set me straight. On page two, it describes how the Province can only allocate the resource: that is decide who may fish, where and so on. The province publishes regulations and issues licenses towards that end. The Federal Government, having vastly larger powers, reserves the right (in inland waters also) to preserve, protect and manage fisheries. (I am here thinking that steelhead can be described as a fishery – one that has come to adulthood in the ocean and must have once been harvested as an economic activity both in the salt and in brackish water.) Included in management is the right to allow harvests for social, cultural or economic goals. Thinking about preserving and protecting, a little reading in the law informs me that rights manifest themselves through responsibilities and duties. So what happens, I wondered, when allowing a harvest for economic reasons (as in permitting a beach seine harvest of chum in the lower Fraser this past October) arguably threatens migrating fish that face a threat of extinction? This is certainly a clash of two rights. How can the Department of Fisheries and Oceans preserve and protect a steelhead race, one on the precipice of extirpation, when there is a known risk that at least some will die from the netting activity, if only inadvertently? The Federal Government, and only that government, is responsible for protecting steelhead from extinction; and that duty must have precedence over any other. If it is not the Federal Government who has that responsibility, then who else does? (For anyone similarly misguided, as I was, Google, “A Practical Guide to the Fisheries Act and to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act” and look over the first three pages or so.)

    • Once again you provide valuable comments and links to important documents. Thank you Frank. I hope your contributions to this blog are as valued by others who read them as they are to me.

  • I contend that steelhead must have formed a part of the historic salmon fishery on the West coast. So far, the only information I can find (from a quick internet search) is from one historical source about commercial fishing by our neighbours to the south. “Commercial fishing in the Columbia River reached its one-year peak, in terms of poundage, in 1911, when 49.5 million pounds of salmon and steelhead were landed.” I doubt that in the early days of salmon fever in British Columbia any distinctions were made. If it swam it got canned. Certainly the historic harvesting by fish wheel, weirs of other method by First Nations in coastal waters could be considered to be an economic fishery. My point is I believe that steelhead must reasonably be considered a fishery at the time Canada’s constitution was made.

    • I have an unpublished document that was given to me by its author and now retired DFO biologist many years ago. It is the only record I have ever been able to find on landings of Skeena steelhead by the commercial fishing industry all the way back to the beginning of the commercial fishery up there in the late 1800s. You can find the summary of that in my Skeena book. I only wish there was something similar for the Fraser. My friend Bill McMillan down Washington way has done an incredible amount of work on the historic abundance of steelhead in Puget Sound and a few other notable places. The numbers are staggering relative to the present. The thing to remember about steelhead landings is they were often misreported in the early days because no one cared. Also, steelhead were always of low value compared to target species like sockeye and chinook (red only) so, whenever the landing and processing facilities were glutted, low value species like steelhead and white chinook were flushed back into the water. We will never know what the true historic abundance was.

  • To hurt our heads further and to support my belief that fisheries, in Federal constitutional matters, includes steelhead, both in the ocean and in rivers. (This is important, because if so then the Federal government has a duty and responsibility to preserve and protect steelhead.) Here is Canadian legal opinion on the matter: “The meaning of the word “fishery” was considered by Newcombe J. in this Court in Reference as to the Constitutional Validity of Certain Sections of the Fisheries Act, 1914 , at p. 472: In Patterson on the Fishery Laws (1863) p. 1, the definition of a fishery is given as follows: ‘A fishery is properly defined as the right of catching fish in the sea, or in a particular stream of water; and it is also frequently used to denote the locality where such right is exercised.’ In Dr. Murray’s New English Dictionary, the leading definition is. ‘The business, occupation or industry of catching fish or of taking other products of the sea or rivers from the water.’ The above definitions were quoted and followed by Chief Justice Davey in Mark Fishing Co. v. United Fishermen & Allied Workers Union, at pp. 591 and 592. Chief Justice Davey at p. 592 added the words: [Page 300] “The point of Patterson’s definition is the natural resource, and the right to exploit it, and the place where the resource is found and the right is exercised.”Chief Justice Laskin, in Interprovincial Cooperatives Limited et al. v. The Queen, at p. 495, referred to the federal legislative power as being “concerned with the protection and preservation of fisheries as a public resource”. (All of these support the contention that the use of the word fisheries in the Canadian constitutional context is broad and includes steelhead. The honourable
    Chief Justice Laskin’s comment only adds emphasis to our concern – Frank {a barracks lawyer
    of sorts. No, I am not a lawyer, nor especially learned, only an angler given to contemplation from my many pleasant hours afoot on treasured waters.}

    • Keep this sort of information coming Frank. There are those tuned in who are working toward addressing the Thompson steelhead conservation crisis in the courts. I’m sure they are considering all your contributions here.

  • Frank, I believe you’re right in claiming that steelhead formed part of the historic salmon fishery in B.C., but I doubt you’ll find much evidence of it.

    When I began gillnetting the Fraser River in the late 1950s and early 60s, one of the first things I was told by friends running the collectors and packers was “steelhead are always entered in to the tally books under coho.”

    Even at that time the Canadian Fishing Company plant managers and skippers onboard the packers were wise to the idea of sportfishermen/women would make trouble for the commercial fishing industry if they ever found out that huge amounts of steelhead were being taken by Fraser River gillnetters.

    Another factor in the demise of Thompson River steelhead was the introduction of “panel” gillnets. A panel net has multiple coloured sections sewn in to the net at the factory. What we noticed when fishing these nets in the Fraser was that the steelhead “alway” gilled or got caught in the darker sections directly after it changed from a lighter coloured panel.

    Beach seining may not be the selective method of salmon fishing that most people tend to believe.
    Somewhere around 1995 the Sto:Lo began beach seining pink salmon for the females’ roe on the Fraser River bars between the Nicomen Landing and Agassiz. Pink salmon have a tendency to spawn on gentle shelving bars, in slower water and at a depth where there eggs won’t be exposed when the river drops down in the winter. These particular types of desirable pink salmon spawning bars are few and far between. Here’s what I witnessed and filmed during the initial First Nations pink salmon beach seining fishery: At all six beach seining sites that I visited via our jet boat, the bags or bunts on the seined were dragged up on the beach with the catch high and dry. The females were thrown in to large plastic fish totes that were inside of various boats. The male pink salmon were fired up on to the gravel beach where they were left to die in piles up to five feet high. During the time that I watched this disaster unfold, I did not witness any other species of salmon or steelhead being released to continue their upstream journeys.
    I contacted Global’s BCTV with my footage, it aired that night and the fishery was closed by DFO.
    It might also be interesting to note that at each beach seining site the pink salmon were scooped directly off their spawning beds. In my opinion, it doesn’t take a Fisheries scientist to predict the outcome of catching and killing salmon off their spawning beds.

    During my guiding career on the upper Fraser I discovered that Thompson River steelhead migrating upstream would have a tendency to follow a particular path. This steelhead path or highway was located at a specific spot in a notch where the slope of gravel bar met the channel line. This particular spot I speak of is precisely where the beach seines are set to swing with the tide.

    Although I have never set a gillnet in a backeddy on the upper Fraser River, I suspect that steelhead—like salmon—would utilize the calmer spots to get out of the faster current flows for a rest. Although I’m not a racist or against First Nations harvesting salmon, In this day and age I believe that one of the biggest hurdles Thompson River steelhead will face in recovering to healthy, sustainable numbers, will be First Nation’s gillnets and beach seining on the Fraser River.
    Perhaps fish wheels may be a more selective method of harvesting salmon?

    • Valuable contribution here Ken. Thank you. As I’ve said already, the FN fishery is the single greatest (and potentially controllable) factor facing Interior Fraser steelhead today. It is nigh on impossible to engage governments on this without being seen and labelled as racist. Conservation is everyone’s responsibility. FNs should not get a free pass. Those who try to sell the notion beach seines are “the answer” need to visit a few sites like you and I have before sounding off.

  • Thanks Ken. That is hugely informative. And yes, supporter as I am of First Nations in many ways, I am aware of the acute sensitivities. Even mentioning them in some forums, with or without the obligatory gestures, is like raising a lightning rod. It would be great to see some of First Nations along the rivers join the battle to save Chilcotin and Thompson steelhead. I hope we hear leadership voices from their communities. So far I have not, but someone else could better inform me.

  • Hello all, I just want to add my two cents here, regarding seals and steelhead. I fish the quinsam about 50-60 days per steelhead season and this year’s early stretch was very poor. I’ve never seen the quinsam so barren and I was puzzled. Not one steelie and only two trout until yesterday when I landed four gorgeous dime bright silver ghosts. For the first time ever, I’ve seen seals during the high water of mid January as far upriver as the hatchery so I jumped to the obvious conclusion that the lack of fish was due to the damn seals. Of course that logic is laughable to the scientific community but it has to have some truth because only now that the water levels are low enough that seals cannot come up the river are there any fish. If steelhead were as “cute” as a seal perhaps enough of the general public would care about them to the extent that would force some kind of conservation action. Maybe in the future reeling in a seal will be the only winter fishing option, guess I need a bigger rod.

    • Try this for openers – keep the hatchery fence wide open 24/7 so steelhead that avoid fences like the plague don’t get stockpiled downstream and become easier prey.

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