A sockeye salmon spawns in a B.C. river. A DFO spokesperson stated that the regulations limiting commercial sockeye harvest are in place to protect wild Skeena stocks.Ivan Hardwick

Original Published on Aug 10, 2022 at 10:02

By Kaitlyn Bailey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Unnecessary and irresponsible is how the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union (UFAWU-Unifor) described Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) decision to close some salmon harvesting around Prince Rupert on August 7.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced their decision to close the commercial marine sockeye fisheries around the Northcoast city, in a media release on Aug. 5,

As of Aug. 1, the Skeena run size was at 4.1 million fish, which UFAWU-Unifor calls one of the largest in decades. Yet economic fisheries will have caught fewer than 900,000 sockeye by the time of the closure, the union stated.

Commercial marine fishermen have a total allowable catch of 40 per cent. To date, they have only caught 20 per cent, Mitch Dudoward, member of UFAWU-Unifor said on Aug. 8.

The decision is not based on science, and it follows a trend of “irresponsible decision-making” by Joyce Murray, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, which is “deeply troubling”, the release stated.

“It’s not just a closure, they got us started a month late, so now there’s over three million fish going to go to waste in Babine Lake because we don’t have the catching capacity to slow them down,” Calvin Siider, UFAWU-Unifor member said.

Regulations put in place by DFO also restricted commercial fishermen to a half a net and a maximum of 20-minute sets, the latter referring to the amount of time they are allowed to have their nets in the water from the time it is completely set to the time it begins to be retrieved.

“That reduces our efficiency by half,” Siider said.

The numbers of fishing boats dropped by half, with only 150 boats showing up this year when there would usually be closer to 300, he estimated, blaming the low attendance on the Minister’s “wishy-washy” decisions.

“There are concerns for late-run Skeena stocks, which we understand, and we can take a closure for reasons like that,” he said. “But when it doesn’t open because of ministerial interference, I mean, somebody should pay.”

The union stated in its press release the closure is unnecessary and will result in lost economic opportunities for fishers.

A side effect of the stricter regulations and closures is that Prince Rupert no longer has the capacity to process the fish.

“Now that we have a whole bunch of fish, we have no processing capacity. Just about all of the fish that’s been caught and passed through Canadian fishers hands in Prince Rupert here goes to Alaska to be processed,” Siider said.

He added that labour costs have also contributed to the change in the processing location.

“We used to be able to process every fish we caught.”

Published on Aug 11, 2022 at 18:26

DFO says it uses cautious management despite above-average sockeye return on Skeena

By Kaitlyn Bailey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is taking a more precautionary approach to manage the commercial sockeye fishery in 2022, the organization stated on August 10.

The 2022 sockeye return on the Skeena River is estimated to be 4.3 million, more than three times the five-year average between 2017 and 2021, which was 1.4 million.

Still, the DFO has put additional measures to limit the number of sockeye commercial fishermen can harvest, including requiring gillnet fisheries to use shorter nets and sets. They also set a predetermined end date for seine and gillnet fisheries in early August, DFO spokesperson Lara Sloan wrote in an email.

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union (UFAWU-Unifor) spoke out about these restrictions, frustrated they were being restricted when there was such a bountiful return.

“It’s not just a closure. They got us started a month late, so now there’s over three million fish going to go to waste in Babine Lake because we don’t have the catching capacity to slow them down,” Calvin Siider, UFAWU-Unifor member said, on Aug. 8.

The DFO stated that the additional measures are to protect wild sockeye populations, which they are concerned about.

As explained in the Northern Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP), the largest producers of sockeye salmon in the Skeena River are enhanced fish returning to the Fulton River and Pinkut Creek.

However, wild stocks, which are distinguished from enhanced stocks because they originate in naturally-occurring streams, are not as productive and cannot withstand the same exploitation rate as the enhanced fish.

The Northern IFMP is focused on three wild sockeye stocks in the Skeena: the Nanika-Morice, Kitwanga and Babine River.

In the ocean, the wild stocks cannot be separated from the enhanced stocks, so fishermen cannot selectively harvest the more prolific enhanced sockeye. The DFO stated that this is why there are regulations in place despite a large run.

Sockeye returning to the Skeena river this year first entered the ocean during the end of a marine heatwave and have been fortunate to experience cooler temperatures beginning in the second half of 2020, Sloan stated. These cooler temperatures are more favourable for the growth and survival of salmon, which may have contributed to the more prolific run this yea

These items reprinted with permission from Northern View, Prince Rupert, British Columbia