BC conservationists blast federal government for irresponsible salmon fisheries

Groups call on Minister to “move fisheries into the 21st century”

For Immediate Release:  August 17, 2011

VANCOUVER – Commercial fisheries targeting pink salmon on British Columbia’s north coast have discarded over 1.37 million pounds of chum salmon over the past month, enough to fill 40 transport trucks. Many of these fish are from depleted stocks and many will not survive to spawn, according to scientists with Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust.

Fishermen have been required to discard chum salmon in several fisheries this year because of concerns for low abundance in the Skeena and Nass watersheds, and rivers throughout BC’s iconic Great Bear Rainforest.  In one remote fishing area 150 km south of Prince Rupert, over 310 metric tons of chum salmon were discarded in order to retain 870 metric tons of pink salmon.  Unlike other BC fisheries, no independent observers have been present in this fishery to help ensure compliance with fishing regulations including the safe release of chum salmon.  Without this oversight, most discarded fish are not expected to survive to spawn, also depriving wildlife of an important food source.

“It’s crazy to allow this kind of competitive time-limited fishery and at the same time expect fishermen to return so many salmon to the water in a careful manner when no one is watching”, said Greg Knox, executive director of SkeenaWild. “Fishery managers confirmed to us that regulations were not being followed, but the fishery was allowed to continue with no serious or immediate consequences for offenders”.

“Those discarded chum salmon could have fed bears, eagles, wolves, and dozens of other wildlife species in our coastal rivers.” explained biologist Misty MacDuffee from Raincoast.  “Salmon availability influences physical condition and cub survival for coastal grizzlies, and chum salmon are a preferred food species for bears, making them an important resource.”

The UK-based Marine Stewardship Council recently certified BC’s pink salmon fisheries as “sustainable”, a designation that MacDuffee says should be revoked if current fishing practices are allowed to persist.

“Not only is it wasteful and unsustainable to allow this sort of fishery in this day and age, but it is also unnecessary”, concluded Aaron Hill, ecologist with Watershed Watch. “The pink salmon these fishermen are targeting could easily be harvested using techniques that would ensure high survival of discarded fish from depleted stocks.  All that’s required is some leadership from Minister Ashfield in Ottawa. What’s stopping him?”