July 29, 2013
Skeena River sockeye salmon are returning in desperately low numbers this summer, causing concern among conservationists for the future of one of British Columbia’s largest and most diverse salmon runs.
The run collapse has triggered closures of commercial and recreational fisheries in B.C., and is restricting First Nations’ food fisheries. Meanwhile, commercial fisheries in Alaska have been intercepting Skeena sockeye just over the border, less than 100 kilometres from the mouth of the Skeena River.
The cause of the collapse is not known and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, and Raincoast Conservation Foundation are calling on Alaskan fishery managers to put conservation ahead of short-term commercial interests by moving their fisheries inland, out of the open areas where the B.C.-bound salmon are being caught. Commercial net fisheries in southeast Alaska catch up to 20 per cent of Skeena sockeye as they migrate through Alaska. In years of low returns their catch can be even higher. These fish are often caught as “bycatch” in fisheries targeting local Alaskan pink and chum salmon. The Pacific Salmon Treaty, which covers fisheries on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, does not prohibit the capture of depleted B.C. stocks in Alaskan fisheries.
We are calling on Ottawa to defend Canada’s interests by doing more to protect vulnerable salmon runs from overfishing in U.S. waters. Instead of spending so much effort promoting oilsands, it would behoove the federal government to stand up for Skeena sockeye, which, if managed properly, could be a truly sustainable and renewable Canadian resource.
Executive director of SkeenaWild
Fisheries ecologist,Watershed Watch
Fisheries ecologist, Raincoast