Tag Archives: chum salmon

discarding North Coast chum — make sense? (If it’s broke — it probably needs a fixin…)

spawning chum

This comment was posted recently under the post: If it’s broke; it probably needs a fixin’… wild salmon “management” in Canada

Seems like something might be ‘broke’… (thanks for the comment Greg).

North Coast commercial salmon fishermen have discarded almost 22% of their total catch so far this year, including 1.2 million pounds of chum salmon, many coming from stocks DFO has described as being of “special conservation concern”. One-half of these chum discards came from areas in and around the Great Bear Rainforest.

Unlike most other BC fisheries there are no independent observers to confirm the accuracy of the discard information provided by fishermen. At least two DFO science papers and a recent J.O.Thomas Report have expressed concerns about fishermen “underhailing” their discards. Hence, the number of fish reported by DFO as having been discarded should be considered a “minimum” estimate.

In addition, the absence of independent observers means that fisheries are not monitored to ensure fishermen abide by their “Terms of Licence” and return the discarded salmon back into the water “with the least possible harm”. There are no scientifically defensible estimates of the proportion of discarded chum that survive to spawn, but it is believed to be relatively low.

DFO requires that chums be discarded as a “conservation measure”. Yet, DFO cannot provide scientifically defensible estimates of how many chum salmon are discarded, the proportion that survive to spawn, the consequences of killing so many salmon from depressed populations, or the associated ecological costs.

Why is this allowed to occur?

1. Chums are of no commercial value on the North Coast. In fact, they are a cost to fishermen. Discarding chums slows the fishing process. The objective is to discard the unwanted salmon as fast as possible rather doing all that can be done to ensure they survive the encounter.

2. The recreational sector has little interest in north and central coast chums and therefore places little value on them.

3. Most of the impacted chum stocks are located in wild and remote areas of BC like the Great Bear Rainforest, isolated from the majority of BC’s population, and therefore “out of sight, out of mind”.

In contrast, management of chum fisheries on the South Coast reflects the economic and social value people living on the south coast place in their salmon. Commercial fisheries targeting chum salmon are managed to a maximum 15% commercial harvest rate. There are significant and growing recreational fisheries for chums in both salt and fresh water. Eco-businesses have flourished taking people to gaze in wonder and awe at grizzly bears feasting on salmon. And watching chum spawn in local streams is a major event in many communities.

In order to save North Coast chum salmon DFO needs to be told that the value of these fish should be measured not just in dollars. That as British Columbians we value our wild places, our bears, our steams, and our forests. And what binds it all together is our salmon.

They are too important to be discarded. North Coast chum salmon stocks need to be rebuilt and protected.

Greg Taylor
SkeenaWild Conservation Trust
August 5, 2011