DFO announces commercial fisheries closures in BC

DFO to offer commercial licence buybacks, as commercial harvest is to be reduced 60% this year

Idle commercial fishing boats have become common in Steveston. | Chung Chow

B.C.'s commercial fishing sector is being dealt a heavy blow by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which has announced major closures to protect declining wild salmon stocks.

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan today announced "an initial step towards longer-term reductions in fishing pressure on stocks of conservation concern with significant commercial salmon closures for the 2021 season."

Jordan also announced there will be a federal fishing licence buyback offered to commercial fishers who are ready to call it quits.

DFO's Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for 2021-22 will result in closures to about 60% of commercial salmon fisheries in B.C. for 2021.

"These closures, affecting commercial salmon fisheries and First Nations communal commercial fisheries, will further reduce pressure on salmon stocks and will be included in the 2021-22 Pacific Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plan," DFO said in a press release.

Greg Taylor, senior fisheries advisor for Watershed Watch Salmon Society and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, said he has seen the list of commercial salmon fisheries targeted for closure, and said it's "dramatic."

"They're basically shutting down the commercial fishery -- Fraser River sockeye, all the fisheries -- they are indeed shutting down," Taylor said.

"I think it's a very sad day," he said, but added it is a necessary move. "This is a pretty historic and courageous announcement."

His one fear is that the licence buyback will be funded from the $647.1-million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative investment. That funding was expected to be used largely for things like salmon habitat and hatchery enhancements.

As BIV News recently reported, the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) released data that showed the global commercial salmon catch in 2020 was the lowest in 40 years. Jordan cited those findings Tuesday when announcing closures for 2021.

“What cannot be debated is that most wild Pacific salmon stocks continue to decline at unprecedented rates," Jordan said in a press release. "We are pulling the emergency break to give these salmon populations the best chance at survival."

As for First Nations fishers, DFO said it will work with indigenous "communal-commercial harvesters" to consider options like shifting to more selective fishing gear or licences for other specieis other than salmon.

nbennett@biv.com

@nbennett_biv