The Fraser River was shut down Thursday at sundown to all salmon fishing due to conservation concerns about sockeye.
The notice of “immediate closure” of all salmon fisheries went out from DFO for the tidal and non-tidal sections of the Fraser.
“Current run size estimates of Fraser River Summer Run sockeye salmon have resulted in no allowable harvest and a conservation concern,” according to the abrupt notice from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The Summer run of Fraser sockeye is usually the strongest. Not this year.
“The Department’s first priority is to ensure that there is sufficient sockeye returning to the spawning grounds. The Department will manage all fisheries to minimize sockeye impacts and provide priority access to First Nations’ fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes.”
Recreational anglers had been targeting chinook selectively but the risk was considered is too great for accidentally intercepting sockeye.
DFO even mentioned it in their notice.
“The Department recognizes the improvements made in the recreational fishery to use techniques to target chinook salmon however at this time all potential impacts to sockeye salmon pose a risk to conservation.
Rod Clapton, president of BC Federation of Drift Fishers, said it’s the first time in a fishery notice that DFO has ever acknowledged sport fishers efforts in this regard.
He called it “unfortunate” their selective chinook fishery was closed.
“We consider it another loss for the recreational community,” he said. Obviously for conservation purposes we support the closure, but that’s on the basis that all user groups are off the water.”
Recreational opportunities for non-salmon species like trout, steelhead, sturgeon and other species other than salmon remain open.
Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl, who is also the fisheries critic, called the total salmon closure “extreme.”
“DFO should ban ‘bottom bouncing’ during this time in order to protect sockeye, but closing the river to all salmon fishing of all kinds is an extreme measure that will have a significant negative impact on our local economy,” said Strahl. “DFO should always try to show maximum flexibility and allow recreational anglers to continue to get out on the river by allowing them to catch and release, and target other species of salmon using selective fishing methods such as bar fishing.”
DFO vowed to “continue to review sockeye stock status information on a regular basis” to inform future management decisions and fishing opportunities,” according to the Aug. 11 notice.
Cheam Chief Ernie Crey said he thought it would come to this.
“The bottom has fallen out of the Fraser sockeye runs,” he tweeted.
Crey, also a fisheries advisor to the Sto:lo Tribal Council, said he also believes DFO should shut down the test fisheries in the marine area, as well as recreational opportunities in the salt chuck as well.
But in the meantime, the total closure makes sense.
“It’s the right thing to do, although it probably should have come earlier,” he said.
Next year will be worse.
“The fish are simply not there. There is no latitude for further mistakes. Every one of these sockeye are needed.”
Chief Robert Gladstone wrote in a note that was sorry to be the bearer of bad news for Shxwhá:y Village, telling them DFO had closed the Fraser sockeye fishery.
“The returns have fallen below original predictions, and they were already bad to begin with,” he wrote on social media. At the present time it does not look likely that will see another FSC opening.”
Although folks would be disappointed, “this is reality of it what we are looking at,” Gladstone said.
“At the current time we have exceeded our percentage of the total allowable catch.”