Salmon Decline Prompts Call For Sports Fishery Closure

By Lloyd Dolha

On August 4th, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) called for closing of a sports fishery on the Fraser River in light of this year’s dismal return of spawning salmon. “In order to provide a fighting chance for returning sockeye, it is imperative that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans shut down the Chinook sports fishery on the Fraser River,” said UBCIC president Chief Stewart Phillip.

The Pacific Salmon Commission, a joint Canada/U.S. body, has revised and lowered their projections for the sockeye salmon returns on the Fraser River. The commission had originally forecasted a return of 10.6 million sockeye, but according to the commission’s latest report, the migration of sockeye through both the northern and southern routes to the Fraser River has fallen far below expectations. Summer-run sockeye is usually expected to comprise more than 80% of the total adult return of Fraser River sockeye, but are also reduced.

Low sockeye counts estimated from in-season assessments suggest “most Fraser sockeye stocks have experienced much poorer than average survival during their freshwater and/or marine life cycles.” Low discharge levels of river water and the recent sustained period of hot, dry weather have adversely affected migration conditions for sockeye returning to the Fraser River. The commission has already closed the Fraser River sockeye runs to all commercial fishing. However, “flossing” sockeye salmon (also called “lining” or “bottom bouncing”) is a common sports fishing practice, a practice that Chief Stewart has denounced.

Hooks that have no bait are illegal, and many argue that flossing is just another way of snagging, which is also illegal. In flossing, a hook is attached to a microfilament line, and a piece of yarn is attached. The yarn manages the drift of the hook and keeps the fisher in compliance with federal regulations requiring that a lure be used in sports fishing. The rigging allows the river current catches the line, which drifts into the salmon’s gaping mouth. When the line slides through, the hook pierces the salmon’s mouth. The yarn “lure” is not bait by any stretch, and the technique virtually guarantees a catch. All the “sports fisher” does is determine the correct drift and depth of the salmon and run the line through their mouths.

Presently, the sports fishery allows anglers to catch and keep four chinook salmon per day for the period from July 16 to August 31 in 2009. “With hundreds of anglers plying the lower Fraser, seven days a week, DFO is hard-pressed to closely monitor and verify their catch,” Chief Phillip pointed out. “Every sockeye salmon that survives the myriad of challenges represents our ability to sustain our precious cultural legacy for our children,” he said.

“Every effort—including the complete shutdown of the sports fishery—should be made to limit the possibility of incidental by-catch of the practice of snagging or ‘flossing’ of sockeye,” said the UBCIC leader. “It’s still a grim, grim picture for the Fraser sockeye.”