Is it time for a vote of non-confidence in Fisheries and Oceans Canada?

This is a follow-up to a post from March 12 — Fisheries and Oceans Canada breaking laws? — in relation to how Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is managing Fraser River Early Spring Chinook. This population is referred to as the 4 sub2’s — meaning that these Chinook largely return when they are four years old after spending 2 years in freshwater and 2 years in the ocean.

This year’s pre-season forecasts from Fisheries and Oceans (in January 2010) states:

Extremely poor escapements [spawners] in 2009. Record lows at Nicola (440), Coldwater (26) and Louis Creek (10). 2009 was the fourth successive year where recruitment 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 as adults to spawn — to match the size of the parents run.

This means negative growth. This is like a human population only having one child (or less) per couple.  This means “death-spiral” for any population.

As a result, Fisheries and Oceans has listed these Chinook stocks (along with many other Fraser Chinook stocks) as Status Category #1 meaning “stock is (or is forecast to be) less than 25% of target or is declining rapidly. Directed fisheries are unlikely and there may be a requirement to avoid indirect catch of the stock”.

On a DFO’s scale of one to four — 1 is as bad as it gets.

The Nicola Tribal Association, which represents several First Nations in Thompson River watershed (tributary to the Fraser River) states that at least 10,000 of these early-timed Chinook 4-2’s need to return to the Nicola River for any fishing to occur. Last year, the 2009 season, less than 1000 Chinook returned.

Yet… Fisheries and Oceans just released the 2009 catch data for Fraser Chinook. Last year, estimates suggest that over 50% of the early-timed Chinook were caught last year. This means less than 50% of the run reached the spawning grounds — this doesn’t mean those salmon successfully spawned. Last year was a hot summer in the Fraser River; one of the highest average river temperatures ever recorded (almost mid-20s Celsisus water temperature with some reports of 28 degrees Celsius water temps further inland).

And yet… further… in last year’s Integrated Fisheries Management Plan DFO stated:

In response to the continued decline in abundance of Early-timed Fraser chinook stocks in recent years, the Department put in place additional management measures in 2008 to reduce fishery impacts on Early-timed Fraser chinook by 50% overall, compared with impacts observed in recent years.

The Plan for last year concludes: “Based on the information currently available, it appears that the exploitation rate on Early-timed Fraser chinook in 2008 will be less than observed in 2007, thus meeting the 2008 management objective.” That objective was to reduce fishery impacts by 50% of recent years.

Sorry folks — the management objective was not met. Not even close!

Somewhat close if we compare 2008 to 2007.

  • 2008: total of 35.4% (Canadian &  U.S. exploitation rate)
  • 2007: total of 54.4%

My math isn’t very good however 35.4% is not half of 54.4%.

The exploitation rate in 2007 was the highest in “recent years” — so what if we take an average of say… the last ten years (seems like a fair representation of ‘recent’):

Total exploitation over last ten years on Nicola River Chinook (comprising the bulk of the early-timed Chinook 4-2s):

  • 1999: 28.3%          2004: 32.6%
  • 2000: 40.5%         2005:  49.2%
  • 2001: 17.2%         2006: 33.9%
  • 2002: 11.2%         2007: 54.4%
  • 2003: 31.8%         2008: 35.1%

What is the average of the last ten years? 33.4%

Oh wait, maybe five years is more ‘recent’… so what’s the average over the last five years: 41%

Thus, if DFO’s “Conservation/Sustainability Objectives” the section of the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan which the above quotes come from is to: “to reduce fishery impacts on Early-timed Fraser chinook by 50% overall, compared with impacts observed in recent years.

They have failed miserably. They have also told half the truth by suggesting that they have been successful in reducing exploitation by 50%.

Half of the last ten years is about a 16-20% exploitation rate. Better yet, DFO’s own information — a PowerPoint presentation titled “Chinook Salmon Conservation and Proposed Management Approach” — states that for Fraser Spring 4 sub2’s “sustainable exploitation rates currently estimated in 8-11% range for low survival period; populations declining at current exploitation rates.”

So what was the exploitation rate in 2009?  DFO just released this information… wait for it…

50.2 %!!

Utter and complete failure.

This means that DFO allowed over 40% more Fraser early-timed Chinook to be killed than they themselves have deemed is sustainable. Furthermore, DFO’s own plans state: “2009 was the fourth successive year where recruitment failed to replace parental spawning abundance.”

So why the hell did they allow over 50% of the run to be caught by various fisheries?

One disturbing aspect of the 2009 information: the Juan de Fuca (divides southern Vancouver Island from Olympic Peninsula in Washington state) sport fishery jumped from an average of about 1% over the last 10-12 years to almost 12% in 2009.

Not only is DFO efficiently managing these Fraser early-timed Chinook into extinction — they are empowering the sport fishing industry to exact the finishing swipe.

Further Evidence:  at this very moment Chinook sport fisheries remain open coast-wide in B.C.

This despite the fact that First Nations from up and down the Fraser River have called for a moratorium on all fisheries to allow these early-timed Chinook to migrate to their spawning grounds. First Nations gave DFO a March 31 deadline — nothing has been done. Hooks are in the water, fishing derbies are planned, and tension builds.

Fisheries and Oceans have failed miserably in meeting their own conservation/sustainability objectives in reducing exploitation rates by 50% on Fraser River early-timed Chinook.  Last year, exploitation rates jumped by over 15% from the 35% of 2008 to a rate that saw over half of the early-timed Chinook killed in fisheries.

This is unacceptable (and embarrassing).

Is it time for a vote of non-confidence in Fisheries and Oceans?

Or, should we just strike another $20 million public inquiry – The [enter name here] Commission into Fraser River Chinook declines?

Or, maybe it’s just time for a fundamental independent review of the entire fisheries management regime responsible for looking after Canada’s Pacific salmon?

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