Other fish in the sea? protect stocks of concern? could it be wise DFO decison-making?

Remember the time you had your heart broken in a tough relationship breakup… and advice-giving folks would carry on about “other fish in the sea”?

Not always welcome advice at the time of an achy-breaky heart — however, as most learn — it’s quite true.

Well… it’s very true when it comes to commercial industrial fisheries as well.

The Vancouver Sun is reporting yesterday:

The coming week will mark the end of salmon fishing in some parts of British Columbia due to coho salmon conservation concerns, according to a Department of Oceans and Fisheries head.

The decision comes after a Fraser River sockeye salmon run of an estimated 34 million fish — the most since 1913. It equates to a total allowable catch of about 13.3 million, said Barry Rosenberger, the DFO’s area director.

“Even though we have a lot of sockeye still, and we may not have caught all that we’re allowed to catch, the coho concerns and conservation objectives will supersede the harvest opportunities,” Rosenberger said.

“There are people saying, ’Why aren’t we continuing to harvest as much as we can of this sockeye?’ and it’s because they’re co-migrating more now with other species like coho and steelhead and some other populations that are not nearly as productive as sockeye were this year. We need to make sure we’re giving them protection.”

Interior Fraser coho has been a stock of concern since 1998…

Sounds like a wise decision… exactly the gist that has been made in posts and comments on this weblog (and a brilliant editorial in the National Post on Friday by Terry Glavin Get your hands off my salmon) — terminal mixed stock marine fisheries can be devastating on “co-migrating stocks”. It’s fine for folks to carry on about how we should be hammering 80-90% of the total Fraser boon sockeye run this year (see yesterday’s post); however that sort of mentality forgets that sockeye are not the only fish in the sea (or river mouth for that fact).

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My question though… is what about specific Fraser sockeye “stocks of concern”?

There is protection granted to the Early Stuarts (a run time grouping of potentially over 20 separate stocks) — yet proposed as only one Conservation Unit in the Wild Salmon Policy.

What about the Bowron River or other upper Fraser sockeye stocks of concern?

Part of the reason is exactly the reasons listed above for protecting Interior coho or steelhead — if some level of protection is given to down-trending populations of upper Fraser sockeye stocks that tend to co-migrate with some of the more healthy mid-river sockeye stocks (e.g. Chilko on the Chilcotin Plateau or Scotch-Seymour lower on the Fraser); it would mean holding off marine and Fraser mouth commercial fisheries.

That is a very, very unpopular thought with various down river lobby powers.

To be fair, some protections has occurred to a certain degree — at least on paper — total exploitation on the Early Summer run-timing (several upper Fraser stocks) group was limited to 25% in DFO pre-season sockeye planning to afford some protection to some dwindling upper Fraser sockeye stocks. Yet, proposed exploitation rates for the Summer run-timing group and the Late Summer run-timing group were 60%. There is much overlap in these run timing Groups as well — i.e. Early Summers often co-migrate with Summers. Thus fisheries focussed on Summers can catch Bowron River sockeye, which are in deep shit and part of the Early Summer group.

Those proposed rates (e.g. 60%) may not be reached now — however, we really won’t know until there are some comparisons made between test fishing run-size estimate, Mission and Qualark hydroacoustic fish counting, and on-the-spawning-grounds estimates. And even then, it’s still all guess-timates (hiding behind scientific, computer-simulation model results…)

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And this, without even going into the changes occurring within the Late Summer run-timing group. These fish for over the last decade have been holding for shorter periods of time in the Fraser estuary and heading upstream. They are very susceptible to warm river temperatures and in some years have experienced huge die-offs (up to 90% in the early 2000s) prior to spawning.

No one really knows why and large studies are underway.

In the face of such uncertainty it doesn’t seem wise to start hammering these stocks simply because it’s a boon year. Maybe a little more wait-and-see approach might be appropriate.

You know… just like the times of your achy-breaky heart. Just give things a little time before making rash decisions and chasing other fish in the sea… in the science world (and policy, as in Wild Salmon Policy) it’s called the Precautionary Approach.

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