Invalid ENGO Attack on the Public Fishery Debunked

Once again a representative of an Environmental Non-Government Organization (ENGO) has taken an unwarranted and misleading swipe at the BC Public fishery under the guise of conservation concerns for Pacific salmon. This time it was Jeffrey Young who is a science and policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. His comments appear in a July 8th article written by the National Observer’s Rochelle Baker.

Even the article’s title “Should DFO Rein in Sport Fishing to Help Save Salmon?” suggests an anti-public fishing tone that Young quickly embraces.  The substance of the argument is primarily rubbish. Sadly, this damned by innuendo and “fact omission” tactic has become a standard operating procedure for activist ENGO’s, who seek to eliminate legitimate public fishing access to salmon fishing opportunities that have been developed jointly with DFO, and with conservation of weak salmon stocks as the main priority.

The article followed the Minister’s announcement of the restructuring of the commercial salmon fleet as part of the Federal Government’s Pacific Salmon Strategic Initiative. The restructuring included reducing the number of 2021 commercial salmon fisheries from 138 to 59 in British Columbia and the Yukon over all five species of salmon. This reduction is the basis for his argument that “the federal government failed to address the recreational fishery” while making “historic and dramatic reductions to the commercial fleet”. 

The timing of the National Observer article is also important. The article reveals it was written prior to the July 6th announcement of the 2021 public fishery plans beyond the middle of July, even though the piece appeared in print two days afterwards. This suggests it was an attempt to sway public opinion against the recreational fishery, and perhaps even influence the Minister to continue non-retention or impose additional measures on anglers that would carry on beyond the July 15th and July 31st end dates for Chinook Non Retention. 

This statement that the “federal government failed to address the recreational fishery” is nonsense. Either Young is unaware of the negative consequences of Chinook Non Retention, or he intentionally ignored them. The fact is Chinook Non-Retention effectively wiped out salmon fishing over the bulk of the inside marine waters from Johnstone Strait to Port Renfrew; and then along the west coast of Vancouver Island, with the exception of major Inlets and Sounds where stocks of concern are not present. This regulation has been in place for three years effectively wiping out salmon angling for 4 months out of the 5 ½ month prime summer Chinook angling period.

Young also failed to explain that commercial fishers, once they are permitted to fish, have the opportunity to make up for early season losses since their economic success depends on pieces of fish landed. The recreational fishing economy depends on the opportunity to retain salmon spread over a reasonable period of time to exercise that opportunity.

Essentially recreational fisheries do not fit into commercial harvesting models. Unfortunately ENGO’s have adopted this as a talking point with calls for the recreational sector to be managed like the commercial salmon fishery. This shows that have little clue about how recreational fisheries operate, or worse, do know and don’t care. Of course, the fallacy of this argument becomes apparent when this situation is reversed. Imagine the commercial salmon fleet making its living fishing with a rod and reel and a one or two Chinook daily bag limit; made worse if it depended upon hatchery only fisheries given Canada’s paltry fin clipping rate for hatchery Chinook and Coho.

Young intentional minimizes the impact of Chinook non retention regulations by referring to them as “some restrictions”. He then goes on to say the measures haven’t gone far enough, but fails to elaborate or explain his position.

Young’s comments are misleading, suggestive and inaccurate. He states “meanwhile the recreational fishery has become more and more the primary fishery, including on stocks of concern, with the Chinook being the most obvious”. 

First: Since the late 1990’s the recreational fishery has priority access to Chinook and Coho over the commercial salmon fleet. It does not automatically mean anglers catch more it means angling comes ahead of commercial interests, but both come after conservation and First Nations Food Societal and Ceremonial Fisheries.

Second: Young implies we have the greatest impact on stocks of concern. The primary stocks of concern that are driving management actions are Upper and Middle Fraser River Chinook. First Nation Fraser River fisheries have the largest impact on these stocks.

Third: The statement wording suggests anglers are becoming the primary fishery on other stocks, but he does not explain. This is also nonsense. The recreational fishery’s traditional take of Chum, Sockeye and Pink is less than a drop in the bucket when compared to the massive haul of these species by commercial harvesters. 

Furthermore: When the Minister announced the commercial harvest reduction and rationalization plan it included a buy back process for 2022. The buy-back provides an opportunity for fishermen to opt out of the industry by selling their licenses at a fair market value. It’s an option that has never been offered to recreational fishing business interests.

Anglers and commercial salmon fisherman do agree on this point. Their sector was not properly consulted about this plan before the Minister’s announcement. This is a disturbing trend in government’s dealings with BC’s salmon fisheries. It’s indicative of a move away from data driven decision making to overweighting decisions in favor of political considerations.

There is another huge omission of fact. The commercial reductions are spread across all salmon species which includes Chinook, Coho, Pink, Sockeye and Chum. Many of these stocks are exhibiting weakness to varying degrees. Young fails to mention that the recreational sector is already limited in its catch of Sockeye, Chum and Pink by harvest priorities assigned to commercial fisheries. In times of conservation concern, and based on past history, it is likely that both fisheries will be prevented from fishing. Furthermore Sockeye, Pink and Chum fisheries make up the lion’s share, 65 of 79, commercial 2021 closures where only a small fraction of the total catch goes to recreational angling anyway. Once again Young appears intent on damning the public fishery by omission of facts in order to support an invalid point of view. So how valid is his claim of “failure to address the recreational fishery” when it comes to Coho and Chinook salmon?

Coho: In key south coast recreational fishing areas Coho have been under extreme harvest rate management restrictions since the late 1990’s to protect Interior Fraser Coho stocks. There are recreational wild and hatchery Coho openings in other parts of BC where stocks are healthy, as there are for commercial fisheries. The only chances to keep Coho before the end of September, in heavily regulated areas of the south coast, are limited to hatchery adipose clipped fish, of which they are relatively few due to Canada’s failure to mark 100% of its hatchery Coho production. Once again Young should know this, since the recreational fishery for weak stock Coho has been severely constrained for 2 ½ decades.

Chinook:  Recreational fisheries for Chinook in marine and in-river fisheries have been progressively more restricted since 2009. Severe non-retention restrictions were put in place in 2019, 2020 and now again in 2021 is spite of DFO’s own assessment that fishing proposals, showed low or very low risk of harm to stocks of concern. As noted previously Young intentionally minimized these regulatory impacts by stating the “Minister enacted some restrictions, in some areas at certain times”. This assessment of impact is so far from reality it’s laughable if it wasn’t so serious for the families and businesses that rely on the public fishery.

Young also infers that the public fishery “is still catching stocks of concern” past the Chinook Non-Retention periods. He also states “the data isn’t good for many stocks of concern and for mortality rates associated with catch and release of at risk salmon”. These claims need to be unpacked.

First: Retention of wild and hatchery Chinook after the period of non retention is based on decades of run timing data on these weak stocks, and thousands of coded wire tags collected over the last 40 years from recreational, commercial and First Nation fisheries. These data sets provide DFO with the ability to determine when runs pass through fishing areas, along with data from the Mission hydro-acoustic station. After mid-July, the vast majority of upper and middle Fraser River Chinook stocks of concern have passed through marine waters, where recreational fisheries occur, and are on the way up the Fraser River. This is known science. Allowing Chinook retention fisheries after the middle of July poses no or virtually no threat to these weak up-river Fraser Chinook stocks. This clearly looks like an attempt by Young to misinform the readers.

Second: The mortality rate or FRIM (Fisheries Related Incidental Mortality) from releasing salmon has been established by extensive peer reviewed studies done by DFO, and then re-confirmed by the Canada/US Pacific Salmon Commission which set it at 20% for recreational fisheries, which includes a 5% add on as a buffer. In spite of this the ENGO’s persistently suggest they know better, and the 20% FRIM rate is far too low, without having conducted any peer reviewed on -water BC studies of their own. They have had to walk back these claims, but still persist in passing them off as fact.  Currently there is a valid joint UBC/Sport Fishing Institute of BC study that is examining the total mortality of recreational caught Chinook. It tracks recreationally caught salmon from their release point right into spawning rivers. This study will provide verifiable data. It would be wise to wait for these results. However the ENGO’s are apparently not interested in doing so.

The article reports that the recreational fishery agrees that “there is insufficient research or data around at risk salmon stocks”. However no source from the recreational fishery is given and there is no context. In some cases this may be true but on the question of salmon run timing and fishery impacts for the major stocks of concern there are decades of data on file.

Young also takes shots at recreational data collection and enforcement. The recreational fishery does believe that fisheries need to be managed using the best data available and works closely with DFO to achieve this. However there are practical and logistical considerations. Most areas of weak data collection are remote and lightly fished. This is accounted for and explained in numerous DFO reports. However fisheries that are large and/or impact stocks of concern are extensively monitored using onsite creel surveys to record catch linked to extensive same day over-flights to count effort. In sport fisheries this is considered the gold standard for data collection.

Furthermore this data is backed up by guide logbook programs, license recall, phone interviews, on water enforcement and volunteer avid angler DNA data collection. The back-up programs are also used to collect catch and effort data where it is impractical to operate expensive creel surveys. The Sport Fishing Advisory Board’s Statistical Working Group has continued to work with DFO since the 1980’s to address and improve recreational fishery data sources.

The recreational fishery has asked for improved enforcement for years. However recreational infractions, like not pinching a hook barb or retaining an undersized salmon pale by comparison to carnage caused by out of control illegal in-river salmon poaching using lethal gillnets and beach seines. These activities impede weak salmon stock salmon recovery while killing unknown numbers of other salmon and trout as well as iconic fish like sturgeon.

Illegal Fraser River gillnet with bycatch of sturgeon and multiple species of salmon including potential stocks of concern

The article refers to weak Chinook stocks generally, although the management drivers are stocks associated with the Fraser River. There are other weak Chinook stocks but they are protected by specific regulations like closures and gear restrictions. It is worth noting that Georgia Strait Chinook, once considered a basket case, have rebounded nicely in the last decade and are bucking the downward escapement trend[AO1]. This was achieved through restoration, strategic enhancement and sensible fishery regulations that did not cripple the public fishery.

Sensible regulations include moving to mark selective fisheries, like those mandated by law in the US for the last decade to conserve stocks and permit modest recreational fisheries to exist. Washington State’s Salmon and Steelhead Manager, Mark Baltzell, confirms that the program contributes to conservation.

However once again Young suggests with this quote that the ENGO’s know better: “We do not support Mark Selective Fisheries”.

This article’s headline asked the question “Should the sport fishery be reined back to save salmon?” Yet the article author, Rochelle Baker, when interviewing Owen Bird from the Sport Fishing Institute failed to ask this question. Instead the author allowed the Suzuki Foundation’s Young to frame the response for the public fishing sector. This is at best shoddy journalism, and at worst a demonstration of media bias.

These unwarranted hit jobs on the public fishery need to be confronted when and where they appear. The Public Fishery Alliance will do this. When anglers encounter this type of questionable or poorly researched journalism forward it to the PFA team at [email protected] The PFA will assess the information and respond factually, quickly and thoroughly.

Yours truly,

Christopher Bos
Media Contact

[email protected]

778-967-2363

Public Fishery Alliance is a broad-based organization, representing the interests of BC Anglers.


 [AO1]Link to GS escapement chart

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