Wild Pacific sockeye salmon return to the mighty Fraser River, the “world’s largest salmon fishing river” in the B.C. Lower Mainland at this time each year to spawn. For the past several years their numbers have fluctuated greatly and the run almost collapsed in 2009. This year all sockeye salmon fishing in the Fraser has been cancelled indefinitely by the Department of Fisheries. The main reason for the fishing cancellation from the DFO is the “Current run size estimates of Fraser River Summer Run sockeye salmon combined with record (high) water temperatures in the Fraser River have resulted in no allowable harvest”
“Until further notice, fishing
for any salmon species is not permitted in the tidal waters of the Fraser River … The Department is
continuing to manage fisheries to minimize sockeye impacts and provide priority
access to First Nations’ fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes.
(Official Fisheries Notice August 15, 2013)
Sockeye Salmon Decline
Besides increased river water temperatures there are other possibilities for the salmon decline:
- Disease : Recent studies have found that a deadly fish virus Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), lethal to Pacific salmon and herring has been identified in fish off the B.C. coast. This was first found in fish around 2006. There is also a major concern of parasitic lice killing of small salmon and the connection to fish farms along the British Columbia coast. From the Cohen Report – “In my view salmon farms should not be permitted to operate unless it is clear that they pose no more than a minimal risk to the Fraser River sockeye salmon.”
- Over fishing in international fishing waters and boundary infractions: Even though countries including Canada have policies and actions to try to prevent this, there is speculation on the amount of illegal fishing which takes place. Canada participates in multinational surveillance patrols to protect against illegal fishing activities.
- Another possibility is the connection between pesticides in our streams and oceans contributing to the declining salmon numbers.
Salmon Enquiry Results
There have been official enquiries into why there is a decline in the salmon returning to spawn each year, most recently the Cohen Commission with inconclusive results but with 75 recommendations. This year there is speculation that the Lower Mainland has had a dry and above average warm summer resulting in the temperature of the river being at least 3 degrees higher than normal and this is affecting the returning salmon.The dramatic reduction in returning spawning salmon has a huge impact not just on the commercial and sport fisheries, First Nations but on the environment as the salmon are an integral part of the province’s biodiversity affecting bears (e.g the unique Great Bear Rainforest), bald eagles, wolves and forest growth along the river banks
Commercial & First Nations
DFO only opens commercial and recreational harvest opportunities targeting sockeye if returns are sufficient to meet conservation objectives and provide for First Nation food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fisheries, which under DFO allocation policies, have priority over all other fisheries.
Management of FraserRiver Sockeye Fisheries
First nations are permitted to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The topic of the rights of indigenous peoples to fish all year has been, and is often highly controversial. Commercial sockeye fishing is only opened based on the number of returning salmon each year.
The other 4 species of salmon returning to spawn this time of the year are the Coho, Chum, Pink and Chinook and limited recreational salmon fishing is permitted further upstream of the Fraser in places like the Vedder River. The Vedder is closed completely for the fishing of wild sockeye and wild coho although the fishing and keeping of “hatchery” coho is permitted (identified by the removal of the adipose fin which is done at hatcheries when the salmon are fingerlings)
Irrespective of the reasons for the decline of salmon in the Fraser it is unfortunately a reality and all agencies and governments should be collaborating to reach satisfactory resolution to prevent the absolute demise and the devastating domino effect the loss of the salmon will have on the fishing industry and our environment. Perhaps the question should be “how long will the sockeye salmon survive in the Fraser River?”
- There have been two immediate results of the DFO salmon fishing ban on August 16, 2013:
- Salmon poaching has increased and the DFO have seized over 9 fishing boats and 60 nets for illegal fishing
- The prices on the illegal sockeye market have risen
- Great salmon runs in other rivers in British Columbia beside the Fraser are Skeena, Chilko, Adams and Columbia rivers
- The Grizzly bear is endangered by their shrinking habitat – their major Fall diet before hibernation is salmon
- Affects of salmon decline on coastal bears and other wildlife
- The Fraser River begins in the Rocky Mountains
Links & References
- Official Fisheries notice on the closing of salmon fishing
- Recreational fishing notice August 15, 2013
- The Cohen Commission inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River and the collapse in 2009
- Article on Cohen Report November 2012
- BC Watershed Watch Salmon Society
- Far reaching affects of climate change on Salmon
- Salmon information
- Sea lice and salmon farms
- Decline of salmon because of hydro
- Fish farms and salmon
- Eagles and bears starving after low salmon run in 2009
- There are still opportunities to observe grizzly bears in their natural environment along the B.C. coast
- Life cycle of the salmon video
- How to can fresh caught salmon – an article from Caramel and Parsley