Federal chinook salmon fishing restrictions get mixed reviews

Owen Bird says fishing has always been a part of his life, starting in a row boat when he was a child.

Now, he's executive director of the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C., and he claims this year's chinook salmon fishing restrictions — announced on Tuesday — will have a major impact on his industry, as well as his fishing plans for the season.

"This announcement does have an effect on that," said Bird, who will be able to keep just a third of the Fraser chinook salmon that he was able to harvest last year.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced several new rules this week in an effort to protect and restore dwindling salmon stocks, including:

  • Closure of the commercial fishery until Aug. 20, 2019. The usual start date is in June.
  • Overall recreational fishery limited to 10 chinook per person.
  • First Nations chinook fishing restricted until July 15.

"The immediate reaction was, frankly, one of shock," said Bird, adding that the B.C. sport fishing industry is directly connected to 9,000 jobs, as well as more than a billion dollars in revenue.

"People that plan trips to come to B.C. to go fishing — or in fact are in B.C. and plan to go fishing — they base their decisions on an opportunity to catch chinook," he said.

Bird said he appreciates the threat facing some salmon populations, but he favours other ways to try to protect them that don't have as significant an impact on the sport fishing industry — like dealing with some of wild predators that harvest the fish.

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"it's a pretty touchy subject for for all sorts of reasons," said Bird. "But there is a lot of evidence and scientific support that there should be something done about those particular populations of seals and sea lions at the mouth of the river a particular times of year."

Political reaction

Provincial politicians also reacted to the new federal rules. Premier John Horgan, in a written statement, said the restrictions will have a significant impact on recreational, Indigenous and commercial fishermen, and the communities that depend on them. 

"I'm disappointed that successive years of bad decisions have led us to this point."

Adam Olsen, Green Party MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, also released a written statement focusing largely on the role climate change has played in putting salmon at risk.

Olsen said climate change has played a role in ocean acidification, extreme weather, floods, wildfires, drought and increased water temperatures.

All these factors, he said, have hurt salmon and are "exacerbated by current government policies that protect and promote fossil fuel development."

Olsen added that "short term, reactive decisions from Ottawa are not good enough."

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