War of words over chum fishery

“I’m gonna fish ‘til I drop dead,” said commercial fisherman Allan Thompson, noting that in his line of work, retirement is a fantasy he’s long since put to rest.

“I’m gonna fish ‘til I drop dead,” said commercial fisherman Allan Thompson, noting that in his line of work, retirement is a fantasy he’s long since put to rest.

Fish returns and commercial fisheries just aren’t what they used to be, he said. These days, a fisherman is lucky if he can make enough money to last the year.

So when a commercial fishery, projected to be the best in years, opened in the Kitimat Arm of the Douglas Channel just more than two weeks ago, he was dissapointed it closed after only six days.

But according to Dan Wagner, a local fish manager for  the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the fish didn’t come back to the Kitimat Arm like projected, and conservationists allege many died on their way here.

So although the outlook was reminiscent of the good days of chum returning at first, Wagner said the fishery here closed to ensure the fishing nets didn’t dip into fish needed by other interests like wildlife.

“We just thought we had taken enough,” said Wagner.

But Thompson disagrees, saying the returns still looked good when the fishery closed.

“There were lots of fish,” he said. “We’re really just a spoon in the bucket.”

But despite projections of chum returns reminiscent of 2005-2006 by the DFO, commercial chum caught by all the boats didn’t compare this year.

 

In 2005, 146,000 chum were caught in the Douglas Channel and in 2006, 45,000 were.

This year’s chum fishery netted about 19,000 chum, Wagner said.

 

Last year, which Wagner said was one of the worst for returns, 16,012 chum were caught and in 2009, also a poor-return year, 29,000 were netted.

The reason this year had lower chum returns than expected to the Kitimat Arm is because the Gil Island Fishery, which intercepts fish enroute here, had high-chum catches. But, those fish could be going elsewhere, explained Wagner.

(Fish return to their birth-area to spawn, so wild salmon spawned outside Kitimat’s Hatchery would travel to many other streams.)

Initial  DFO counts show the Kitimat Arm fishery netted and kept 19,000 chum, 750 sockeye, 870 coho and 3,700 pink and three chinook.

And while  chums couldn’t be kept at the Gil Island fishery due to conservation concerns, counts there show a six-day fishery with larger five-to-six-crew seine boats netted 72,499 chums, 706,139 pinks and 25, 903 sockeye among others.

These numbers have spawned outrage amongst B.C. wild salmon activists who allege many of the chum released in the Gil-Island fishery died, and not all were accounted for.

 

“They’re robbing [Kitimat Arm] fisherman of a valuable catch,” said an ecologist with Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Aaron Hill, who said the DFO practice of relying on fisherman-counted numbers to assess catches means these numbers are likely skewed, and that no one is there to ensure released-fish survive.

“So you have a time-limited competitive fishery, and the fishermen have to catch as many fish as they can in that time,” said Hill. “Its hard to put a high priority to help sort out the chum salmon from the pink salmon.”

But the care taken while sorting and discarding keeps the fish from dying, said Hill, noting there is little incentive for fishermen to care if a fish lives aside from enforcement.

He said random check-ups, which is how the DFO enforces it’s rules now, don’t work. He wants to see independant observers on each boat.

But DFO area chief Dale Gueret. said enforcement in B.C.’s northen waters is working. He said a watcher per boat would suggest all fishermen disobeyed the law, and this is not the case.

Enforcement has observed good and bad behaviour, said Gueret, explaining that several charges were laid in the Gil Island Fishery, but that shouldn’t colour the reputation of responsible fishermen.

But Hill said, too, that the location of this fishery is irresponsible, causing unneeded deaths.

“DFO shouldn’t be allowing this fishery to occur with such a high discard rate,” he said. “They could move fisheries closer to streams where pinks are returning and less (species) are being intercepted.”

This would mean less at-risk wild salmon die, and more Hatchery fish could return to Kitimat.

“Hatchery fish are not wild fish,” he said, explaining that it’s other area rivers and streams which have showed decreased chum counts over years.

Both he and the DFO said this is why the Kitimat Arm fishery is allowed to keep chum, because they’re enhanced.

So the Gil Island fishery is robbing the eco system of salmon it depends on, and Kitimat Arm fishemen of a valuable catch, said Hill.

But Gueret said it’s hard to draw conclusions when it comes to counting fish because there are so many factors at play.

“We don’t have a problem with what the environmentalists are saying,” said Gueret. “We understand that healthy eco systems lead to healthy salmon returns.”

But he’s cautious about jumping to conclusions about where each fish went, and why.

“There’s alot we still don’t know about what drives ocean productivity and concern.” he said.

 

 

Just Posted

The Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre will be closed from June 28 until September 13 for annual facility maintenance as well as teach pool and decking repairs. (Black Press photo)
Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre closed: June 28 – September 13

The aquatic centre will be closed for annual facility maintenance

Shoes are being left at the viewpoint on Haisla Blvd in response to the 215 bodies discovered at the Kamloops Residential School. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Haisla Nation responds to 215 Indigenous children found buried at the site of Kamloops Indian Residential School

“Many Haisla children were sent far away, to places such as Port Alberni, and to Coqualeetza”

Susan Jay hosted a plant and garage sale on May 25 and donated all of her proceeds to the Kitimat General Hospital Foundation to help with the purchase of a new bus for residents at Mountain View Lodge, Delta King and the new Kitimat Valley Housing Society dementia home. (Barbara Campbell photo)
KGHF thanks Susan Jay for her help to purchase a new bus for seniors in multi-level care

Susan donated all proceeds to KGHF, her efforts netted the hospital foundation a total of $1,760

An example of what a mural would look like on the back wall on Ron’s Bait and Tackle Store which faces the courtyard and sidewall. The mural photos shown here are mock-ups of existing artwork on walls of interest in the downtown core to build anticipation within the community about the concept of murals. The KPAA will not necessarily be using these locations or this artwork for the actual murals. (KPAA photo)
Kitimat Public Art Alliance mural funding request denied

D’Andrea suggested she will come back to the council at a later date with a more concrete plan

L-R: Vanessa Couto, Montana Murray, Connor Best, Dawn Best, Natalia Lopez, Thomas Walton, and Charlotte Collier partaking in the clean-up Kitimat campaign on May 28. (Katie Peacock photo)
Kitimat’s MStar Hotel brings out staff’s competitive clean-up side

The hotel staff circulated the Big Spruce Trailhead and picked up as much garbage as they could

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

White Rock’s Marine Drive has been converted to one-way traffic to allow more patio space for waterfront restaurants. (Peace Arch News)
Province promotes permanent pub patios in B.C. post-pandemic plan

More than 2,000 temporary expansions from COVID-19 rules

Most Read