Fisheries and Oceans Canada breaking laws?

Pre-season estimates¬† for returns of Fraser River salmon for this year (2010) are trickling out of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It’s not a pretty picture… not a pretty picture at all. In Saturday’s Vancouver Sun reporter Stephen Hume reported on some of the forecasts.

Forecast not looking good for B.C.’s salmon stocks this year:

Another disastrous season for B.C.’s iconic wild salmon appears to be unfolding even as yet another inquiry gets underway, this time into the collapse of last year’s Fraser River sockeye runs.

Meanwhile, some scientists in the department of fisheries and oceans are warning that the outlook for 2010 is already worse than it was in 2009, when only about 10 per cent of expected Fraser River sockeye returns materialized. (my emphasis)

I’m sitting here looking at Fisheries and Oceans 2010 Salmon Outlook. These are “early” estimates — apparently the practices for which these estimates are based,¬† are changing drastically after last year’s complete failure of forecasting Fraser River sockeye. (10 million forecast — 1 million actually arrived).

Apparently there are four “Outlook” status categories that guide early ‘management’ decisions: numbered 1 – 4. (I paraphrase here):

  • Status 4 — Abundant returns forecast. Fisheries will be directed subject to various policies.
  • Status 3 — Near target returns. Forecast suggests particular stock will be within 25% of target and stable or increasing. Directed fisheries according to policies.
  • Status 2 — Low returns forecast. Well below target levels and declining. Directed fisheries uncertain and likely to be small – if at all. Policies will determine allocation.
  • Status 1 — Stock is basically hooped. Less than 25% of target, declining rapidly. Any fisheries highly unlikely, possible draconian measures (like 1998 complete coho closure due to conservation concerns).

This is supposed to be Fisheries and Oceans new — green, amber, red — approach to fisheries allocations. And if you’re not familiar with how salmon are allocated. Law in Canada, in the Fisheries Act, and legislation directs that absolute #1 Priority is Conservation when it comes to salmon. Here’s the allocation direction.

  • First, make sure conservation objectives are met.
  • Second, allocate First Nation fisheries for food, social and ceremonial purposes.
  • Third, allocate to commercial and sport fisheries.

I reiterate, Absolute #1 is Conservation first.

When it comes to Chinook forecasts this year for the upper and middle Fraser River — it’s a death spiral.

Fisheries and Oceans own forecasts state:

Continued poor marine survival has resulted in continued poor to very poor escapements. 2009 was the third successive year where total recruitment has failed to replace parental spawning abundance.

This means the runs are so small, there are so few Chinook spawning that there will not be enough baby salmon produced, sent to the ocean, and return — to match the size of the parents run.

This means negative growth. This means death spiral for any population.

This is not a situation like Canada or most of Europe where we can simply open our borders and improve our immigration policies to ensure our populations don’t experience negative growth and avert a shrinking labour force, and thus avert a shrinking economy, and thus avert falling stock markets….

No, death spiral. This means that even if the most draconian conservation measures were applied, the population of Chinook in the middle and upper Fraser would continue to dwindle — going the way of the Yangtze dolphin, the dodo, the passenger pigeon (you know the stories). Not to mention, that there will most likely be no First Nation fisheries targeting Chinook – comprising the second commitment under Canadian law.

So can somebody please answer me this:

Why the hell is there an open sport fishery for Chinook salmon right now at the mouth of the Fraser River?

From Fisheries and Oceans website:


Chinook is open year-round in Area 29, except for the tidal portion of the Fraser River.

Area 29 is the area covering the mouth of the Fraser, north to Sechelt and west to the Gulf Islands.

But get this, it’s not just Area 29 — the entire frigging coast of BC is basically open to Chinook fishing year round!

All areas where upper and middle Fraser Chinook may be migrating to reach the mouth of the Fraser River — are currently open for sport fishing!!

Fisheries and Oceans is contravening their own legislation. The Wild Salmon Policy states:

Specifically, DFO is committed to managing fisheries such that Aboriginal fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes has priority over other fisheries.

And yet, DFO currently has open Chinook fisheries coast wide, and specifically encircling the mouth of the Fraser River. The upper and mid Fraser early Spring Chinook are basically on their way in and will be over the next bit. The Spring stocks are not far behind.

How can Fisheries and Oceans say they are managing for conservation first under these circumstances?

Justice Cohen (of the Cohen Commission inquiry into Fraser sockeye declines) I hope you have an opportunity to read this, or are presented this info during the inquiry into the Fraser sockeye collapse.

It’s called mis-management.

4 thoughts on “Fisheries and Oceans Canada breaking laws?

  1. LAL

    To quote Jeff McNeely, former chief scientist for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature: “An important general lesson here is that people living in forested areas [or any resource rich environment] have little interest in over-exploiting the resources upon which they depend. Most of the over-exploitation comes from outsiders who have no long-term interest in maintaining healthy wildlife populations.”

  2. Lanny

    We can’t always blame DFO. the government or David Suzuki. Although it is easy. We must start to self regulate. The commercial fleet could make a deal amongst one another to catch 10 to 20% less than their quota, also if sport fishermen catch 1 or 2 fish less than their limit’ I’m sure nobody will starve! I don’t know what kind of impact this would have, I’m just going to say I don’t think it would be negative. If the fish win we win! Self regulation. We owe it to the fish and to our selves.

  3. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for that Lanny,
    I agree… I read this the other day:

    We can never help address a problem situation from a comfortable position of uninvolved innocence. If we want to help, we must first understand and acknowledge our role — by commission or omission — in creating the situation.

    If we want to change the systems we are part of — our countries, our communities, organizations and families — we must also see and change ourselves.

    Of course, there’s quite a history of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ — if I don’t catch it, someone else will.

    I hear you on the blame game… it gets a bit exhausting. And curiously in the Cohen Commission into declining Fraser sockeye one of the questions they ask the public to address in public forums is: “how can citizens participate in the recovery of Fraser sockeye?” and “What is your vision for the sustainability of Fraser sockeye?”

    Will be curious to see a synthesis of those comments upon reporting of the Commission.

    thanks again for leaving the comment and adding to the conversation.

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