Sport fishermen shocked at restrictions on chinook

Chinook retention reduced from 30 to 10 for summer season, sport fishing sector says impact will be severe

Sport fishermen will be limited this season in how many chinook they can retain. | Pacific Anglers Photo

The Fraser River will remain closed to all salmon fishing until August 23, and there will be non-retention restrictions placed on chinook for the Southern Strait of Georgia until July 31, and July 14 for Northern Strait of Georgia, followed by one-per day retention allowances.

Anglers will be able to retain two chinook per day in more northern regions.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced the new conservation measures for chinook Tuesday, April 16. Basically, sport fishers can still fish for chinook, though in many cases they will not be able to retain them until later in the summer. Overall, DFO plans to reduce the seasonal limit of 30 chinook per person per season to 10.

Owen Bird, executive director for the Sport Fishing Institute of BC said he is "quite stunned" that DFO is taking such draconian measures.

Bird said he is "extremely concerned about the fate of small communities and businesses that have in effect lost 30 to 50 per cent of their business overnight."

DFO will have 140 fisheries offices in the air and on the water to try to ensure compliance with the new regulations. That will include 24 compliance officers dedicated to ensuring that boaters observe restrictions placed on certain key foraging areas for Southern Resident Killer Whales.

The restrictions on chinook are, at least in part, driven by DFO's attempts to address the declining orca population, since chinook make up the bulk of their diet.

Of the 13 Fraser River chinook populations, seven are designated endangered by Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife Canada (COSEWIC), and four threatened.

Chinook are suffering from low productivity. In a technical briefing, DFO staff said that in one population of chinook, only four to eight offspring are produced for 100 adult spawners.

Deterioration of habitat, due to loss of forest cover and increasing sediments from flooding, as a result of forest fires, are partly to blame.

B.C.’s sport fishing sector feared a total closure on chinook might be imposed this year. Sport fishing is a significant part of the economy for many coastal communities, and a number of chambers of commerce on Vancouver Island have expressed concern about the impacts of severe restrictions on chinook.

DFO appears to have opted for slightly less draconian measures, but they are still significantly severe that they will likely result in a loss of business for the sport fishing sector, as anglers cancelling fishing plans this year.

"The measures taken by Fisheries and Oceans Canada will have a significant impact on recreational, Indigenous and commercial fishers, and the communities that depend on them," Premier John Horgan said in a press release."I'm disappointed that successive years of bad decisions have led us to this point."

"It's a $1.1 billion industry, annually," Bird said. "A significant majority of that takes place in the south coast, and non-retention of chinook – the key species, the draw for anybody planning a trip to come fishing in B.C. – is now off the table for a third to a half of the season, depending on where you are."

The restrictions for 2019 are as follows:

• Fraser River closed to recreational salmon fishing until at least August 23;

• retention of two chinook per day in Northern BC and inshore areas of West Coast of Vancouver Island;

• non-retention of chinook in Johnstone Strait and Northern Strait of Georgia until July 14; a daily limit of one chinook per day from July 15 to August 29, and two per day from Aug 30th to December 31.

• non-retention of chinook in the Strait Juan de Fuca and Southern Strait of Georgia until July 31; retention of one chinook per day, August 1 to August 29, and two per day from August 30 to December 31.

non-retention of chinook until July 14 for West Coast Vancouver Island offshore, followed by two chinook per day from July 15 to December 31;

• West Coast Vancouver Island inshore waters, two chinook per day .

There will also be closures for two troll fisheries.

(This story has been updated, with corrections made by DFO to its original release, and with comments from Premier John Horgan).

nbennett@biv.com

@nbennett_biv