VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - April 3, 2014) - First Nations, recreational fishermen, and conservation groups from the Skeena River watershed are calling on Fisheries Minister Gail Shea to abandon a reckless fishing plan being proposed by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The new plan would significantly increase harvest rates on sockeye salmon, resulting in the overfishing of endangered sockeye populations, and serious impacts to other salmon species caught as "by-catch."
The changes would nullify the recent (2009 to 2013) commercial harvest plan for Skeena River sockeye salmon, introduced following the 2008 Independent Science Review Panel. The Panel found that harvest rates were too high for many sockeye populations and needed to be reduced. A 2013 scientific analysis released by Pacific Salmon Foundation confirmed this, reporting that several Skeena sockeye populations were in the "Red Zone"-the area of greatest conservation concern-under DFO's Wild Salmon Policy.
The overfishing would affect the Gitanyow, Lake Babine, and Wet'suwet'en Nations, who all host sockeye populations that lie in the "Red Zone."
"We have harvested Kitwanga River salmon as food for thousands of years. They feed our elders, our culture, and who we are as a people," states Chief Glen Williams of the Gitanyow Nation. "We thought we had turned a corner on a century of overfishing in 2008, but now DFO intends to return to the era of much higher commercial harvest rates."
Chief Wilf Adam of the Lake Babine Nation angrily responds, "Babine River sockeye once numbered over a million, supporting our Food and pre-contact commercial fisheries. Last year less than 40,000 fish spawned. Our people went hungry rather than harvest any for food. And DFO's response is to increase commercial fishing! How can anyone think this is a good idea?"
"Increasing commercial harvest rates threaten recreational fisheries and the communities who benefit from them," said Keith Douglas of the North Coast Steelhead Alliance. "The lower harvest rates introduced in 2009 brought some respite to steelhead runs after decades of overharvesting in unselective gillnet fisheries and spread economic benefits throughout the watershed. It's not like the sockeye won't still be caught and processed," argues Douglas. "Sockeye not caught on the coast are caught in highly selective terminal fisheries that avoid harming both the sockeye populations we are concerned about and recreationally valuable steelhead."
Greg Knox, Executive Director of the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, explains, "There are 30 genetically distinct sockeye populations in the Skeena River watershed. The commercial fishery is focused on the two artificially enhanced populations at the expense of the 28 wild ones." Mr. Knox continues, "DFO argues they only intend to increase harvest rates in years where there are above average sockeye returns. But, large returns are the result of the large numbers of sockeye returning to the two enhancement facilities. It ignores the impact such harvests will have on wild populations important to First Nations and the Skeena ecosystem."
Other groups on record as opposing Ottawa's new plans to allow overfishing of at-risk Skeena salmon populations include the BC Federation of Fly Fishers, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, The BC Federation of Drift Fishers, the Steelhead Society of BC, and the Kingfishers Rod and Gun Club.
"Skeena First Nations, conservationists, and recreational fishermen contend that DFO's plan to allow overfishing ignores independent science advice, First Nations' Constitutional Food and Treaty Rights, and bows to a narrow set of commercial interests," concludes Walter Joseph, Fisheries Manager for Office of the Wet'suwet'en.