Have DFO fishery managers gone rogue?

Managers open salmon fisheries in defiance of minister’s previously announced closures.

A seine net gets hauled out of the water on a fishing boat, full of mixed salmon.

Three months ago, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Bernadette Jordan, made the difficult but necessary decision to announce long-term closures (i.e. spanning several salmon generations) for almost 60 per cent of B.C.’s commercial salmon fisheries. The announcement reflected the dire status of British Columbia’s wild salmon. Fishery closures on Fraser River pink salmon and Georgia Strait chum salmon were part of the minister’s announced closures in June. Conservation groups commended the minister for her bold action. 

Yesterday however, DFO managers took matters into their own hands. 

In contradiction to the intent and spirit of the minister’s announcement to protect wild salmon, and with no consultation with NGOs—despite a commitment from DFO to do so—a commercial opening for Fraser River pink salmon was announced yesterday. This follows on a similar DFO decision to hold a gillnet fishery in southern B.C. mainland inlets the minister also said would be closed.  

“This playbook for salmon conservation is unfortunately not new. For decades, DFO has failed to act in the interest of wild salmon, failed to implement their own national policies, failed to manage fisheries sustainably, and failed to make difficult decisions when it counted most,” said Greg Taylor, senior fisheries advisor for Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

The Fraser River commercial pink salmon fishery will catch sockeye and steelhead from several populations classified as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, a federally-mandated science body. The Minister stated in her June announcement, “What cannot be debated is that most wild Pacific salmon stocks continue to decline at unprecedented rates – we are pulling the emergency brake to give these salmon populations the best chance at survival.”

“This is a clear example of the urgent need for the government to complete science-based recovery plans for at-risk salmon–as required by law–and ensure all actions are taken to address them,” said Misty MacDuffee of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation “Without a clear and transparent path to salmon recovery DFO has demonstrated they are all too willing to maintain the failed status quo.” 

The Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI), introduced by the minister on June 8, 2021, was followed by her announcement to close 79 problematic commercial fisheries, including the Fraser pink salmon fishery. Both are funded by $647 million (over 5 years) allocated in the latest budget. It is unclear whether the minister is retreating from her commitments, or whether her department has gone rogue in order to preserve the status quo, and avoid the changes required to conserve and restore B.C.’s wild salmon. 

“We support appropriate compensation for commercial fishers. The closures are driven largely by climate change, habitat loss, and salmon mismanagement; a consequence of the collective failure to protect wild salmon,” said Taylor.