A Fraser River gillnetter's crew offloads sockeye salmon during the summer of 2010.

A Fraser River gillnetter's crew offloads sockeye salmon during the summer of 2010.

Endangered coho to take bigger hit as fishing fleet targets huge sockeye run

DFO quadruples allowable kill of weak salmon returning to Fraser River

Conservationists say a federally approved fishing plan sacrifices too many endangered coho salmon so fishing companies can catch more of an expected massive run of Fraser River sockeye this summer.

The predicted bonanza of sockeye – 23 million with a chance it could be more than 70 million – means there’s intense pressure for fishermen to capitalize on the huge run.

But if too many coho are caught in the nets along with sockeye, it could be a major setback for Interior coho runs that were nearly wiped out in the late 1990s and had been gradually rebuilding.

In past years, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has limited that unintentional bycatch to three per cent of the incoming coho run – once that many coho were caught sockeye fisheries were usually halted to protect weaker runs.

But DFO’s newly released plan more than quadruples that limit to a maximum 16 per cent of the coho run that can be killed this year by Canadian fishermen, not counting any bycatch by Americans.

“It should be called an overfishing plan,” said Watershed Watch Salmon Society biologist Aaron Hill, who accuses fishery managers of neglecting their duty to protect weak stocks.

“The main reason this is happening is because of heavy lobbying from the fishing interests who want to be able to catch more sockeye.”

A DFO letter to stakeholders says the changes will only be in effect for the 2014 season and was informed by an internal scientific review.

But Hill contends there is no scientific consensus on the safety of the coho protection measures.

Gord Sterritt, executive director of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, which represents 23 First Nations from Williams Lake to the Fraser’s headwaters, said aboriginal stakeholders were prepared to accept some increase in allowed coho bycatch in recognition that this is “a unique year” but said DFO’s decision goes too far.

“Basically they are opening the season on endangered species,” Sterritt said. “We’ve been in conservation mode trying to protect these stocks since 1998. We’ve seen some recovery in the last three years. But it’s still iffy.”

Conservationists argue more sockeye could be taken without putting coho at risk through increased use of selective in-river fisheries, which First Nations have practised for centuries.

DFO spokesperson Michelle Imbeau said the higher permitted bycatch should still allow enough coho upriver to spawn to meet conservation recovery targets, based on an estimated run size of 50,000 coho.

Hill singled out the Jim Pattison Group’s Canadian Fishing Co. (Canfisco) as a main lobbyist for looser coho safeguards.

Canfisco vice-president Rob Morley said there’s broad support for the plan in the commercial and recreational fishing sectors.

“In our view, the scientific analysis the department has done themselves shows the harvest at these levels are sustainable and don’t cause any conservation issues,” he said.

Besides coho, some weak runs of sockeye that return to Cultus Lake, Pitt Lake, Bowron Lake and Taseko Lake could also be at greater risk in a summer of heavy fishing for the abundant sockeye runs.

The sockeye now migrating back to B.C. from the north Pacific are the spawn of the massive 2010 run when 30 million unexpectedly returned.

Last year’s return of four million sockeye was more typical of recent years, although the numbers have improved since just 1.6 million sockeye returned in 2009, triggering the Cohen Inquiry.

Just Posted

Professor Nancy Sandy of Williams Lake First Nation, seen here travelling on the land in Tahltan territory, is heading up the new Indigenous Law and Justice Institute at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Patricia Squires photo)
WLFN professor named director of Lakehead University’s Idigenous law, justice institute

A lawyer, Nancy Sandy is also a former chief of Williams Lake First Nation

Lorne Doerkson is the Liberal MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin. (Black Press Media file photos)
MLA’s CORNER: Mining month in B.C.

Mining Month 2021 gives us the opportunity to learn more about how the industry is changing

Williams Lake Farmers’ Market manager Barb Scharf said Friday, May 7, she was glad to have everyone back for another season. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Farmers’ market season underway in Williams Lake

The Friday market goes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lake City Secondary School Grade 7 Outdoor Education students Geordi Wonnacott (from left), Brody Brook, James Wilker, Ali Calabrese and Kaitlyn Brown explore a burned area at the top end of the trails at Bull Mountain Ski Area last year as part of the Williams Lake Cross Country Ski Club’s ski school program. (Martin Kruus photo)
Ski school glides to successful year at Bull Mountain

Avah Akeson, also in grade seven, said that just having the opportunity to ski was really fun

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Dr. Steve Beerman, of Nanaimo, shows off his Dr. David Bishop Gold Medal, awarded for distinguished medical service. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Most Read