After five years of managing Fraser Stream-Type Chinook under a three zone regimen in Fisheries Areas 19 and 20 (Sidney, Victoria and Sooke), DFO are in the process undertaking a management review. Essentially, this is a good development as it will define whether or not the existing regimen has worked, but will also be fraught with potential challenges for the fishing community, especially Chinook anglers in Southern BC.
In 2012 a new management system for Fraser Chinook was introduced that restricted Chinook fishing for First Nations, commercial and the public based on the forecast abundance of the returning adult Fraser Chinook. The slow but steady decline in abundance of several of these Fraser Chinook that live for more than one year in freshwater before going to the ocean was the basis for DFO to institute these regulations. Since 2008 the public recreational fishery around South Vancouver Island has been severly racheted back with measures that limit retaining wild spawning-sized Chinook from March 1st to mid-June each year. In 2012 the most restrictive measures were implemented that curbed fishing opportunity from March 1st and extended those measures right through until mid-July each year. As Chinook are the key sport fish around the south of Vancouver Island it is vital SVIAC is at the review table to ensure our interests are well represented. Along with several very capable members of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board, it is anticipated that SVIAC’s president will be part of the review process.
At this stage the department has distributed a draft Terms of Reference for the review process and will be undertaking the review over the next six to eight months. The SFAB has recommended the process should not be rushed and 2017 should be managed as status quo from 2016. First Nations, environmentalists and the commercial sectors are all being asked to participate. The essence of the review is to verify whether or not the existing three zone approach is achieving its conservation goals while allowing fisheries to continue at a reduced rate. The review will focus on two components; (1) – a technical committee of scientists will be tasked with reviewing existing data on Fraser stream-type Chinook biology, spawning success as well as population trends and dynamics. Their findings will be used to inform the second component of the review; (2) – a planning process will look at fisheries risk and attempt to develop fishing management recommendations based on the technical committees work.
The challenges for our Chinook fishery are based more on access priority than harvest and fishery impacts. We catch 400 – 1200 Chinook of Fraser origin during the spring and summer off south Vancouver Island based on a total return in the 40,000 to 60,000 adult Fraser 5-2 Chinook, which is far less than the 25,000 or so caught each year by First Nations on the river. Hence our impact on these stocks of concern are genuinely minimal. However, several Lower Fraser First Nations Bands have launched a legal challenge against DFO’s management of Fraser Chinook citing their inability to catch sufficient Food, Social and Cultural fish due to DFO regulations as being a breach of the law. The crux of the matter is First Nations, supported by the environmental community, want us closed down to salmon fishing to increase their harvest of Chinook. A closure of our fishery would be catastrophic.
Stay tuned as this important review takes place and more details become available. Also please know that SVIAC will continue to represent your interests to the best of their ability by being at the table and supporting the SFAB in what ever way they can to ensure DFO makes wise decisions and your fisheries are protected.