New report suggests Alaskan fisheries are overfishing plummeting BC salmon stocks
As Canada closes and restricts its fisheries to protect plummeting wild salmon stocks, a new report suggests boats in Southeast Alaska could intercept salmon populations as they return to rivers Canadian to spawn.
Commissioned by the Watershed Watch Salmon Society and the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, the report was released in conjunction with the United States and Canada’s annual review of bilateral management under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
“Alaskan fisheries are now the biggest harvesters of a growing number of depleted Canadian salmon populations,” Aaron Hill, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said in a statement.
This news comes as no surprise to Jessica Hutchinson, executive director and conservationist of the Central Westcoast Forest Society (CWFS). The CWFS is a non-profit organization working to restore salmon habitat in and around Clayoquot Sound.
After receiving preliminary catch figures from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) based on coded information from the metal tags, Hutchinson said she was pleased to see that the “critical condition” of the West Coast Chinook salmon Vancouver Island is getting the attention it deserves.
In recent years, salmon numbers in British Columbia have reached record lows. Only two wild chinook salmon returned to the upper Kennedy watershed in 2021, meaning the population has seen a 98% decline, Hutchinson said.
“Our wild salmon stocks are absolutely on the brink of extinction,” she said. “It’s a really, really sad situation and something has to give. Otherwise, we’re going to see the stock after the stock expires and be pulled out of this region.
According to the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC), 2019 and 2020 saw two of the smallest Fraser River sockeye runs in the past 100 years.
These staggering numbers prompted former Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to shut down 60% of British Columbia’s commercial salmon fishery in June 2021. In the same month, the $647 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative was launched, which DFO has described as “Canada’s most important and transformative investment”. did in salmon.
But Hutchinson said protecting and rebuilding BC’s wild salmon stocks must be more than a written-on-paper priority.
“There needs to be follow-up so that we have the protection, the policy measures and the ability to actually keep the salmon wild in Clayoquot Sound and along the entire coast of Vancouver Island,” she said. declared.
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Director of Natural Resources Saya Masso said the issue of Alaskan fisheries intercepting BC’s endangered populations is something that’s “rather mal” treated on behalf of Canada under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
“We have been aware of this management problem for some time,” he said. “[The report] is no surprise.
The PSC is employed by the United States and Canada to assist in the implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty by convening meetings, issuing reports, and relaying information between countries.
PSC Executive Secretary John Field said “Canada has so far not raised this issue as a concern”.
“I guess because they haven’t sounded the alarm or said they see Alaska as a breach of the treaty, they’re accepting it as consistent with sustainable harvests under the commission process. salmon,” he added.
Claire Teichman, press secretary to the federal fisheries minister, said “DFO officials are aware of the report and are reviewing it.”
“We know how important it is to protect and restore the Pacific salmon population,” she said.
Commercial fishing fleets in Alaska, just across the Canadian border, logged more than 3,000 boat days and harvested nearly 800,000 sockeye salmon last summer, “most of which were from Canadian origin,” read a press release from the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust.
“Canadian fishers and taxpayers are making incredible sacrifices to protect and rebuild our salmon runs, while the Alaskan interceptor fishery continues unchecked,” Hill said. “It is irresponsible of both countries to continue to allow this.”
Doug Vincent-Lang, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), criticized the report saying it was an “unfair and biased attack on salmon fishing in Alaska. “.
The ADF&G’s management of Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries is consistent with the Pacific Salmon Treaty, he said.
“I was disappointed by what I consider a targeted attack on Southeast Alaska’s salmon fishery by these special interest groups,” Vincent-Lang said. “I take our obligations to uphold treaty commitments seriously.”
Since the report’s release, the Tŝilhqot’in Nation has called on Canada to establish an independent review of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, citing that DFO has “failed” to meaningfully represent First Nations interests. , including food, social and ceremonial fishing rights, at the international table.
“We must immediately review the structure of the Pacific Salmon Treaty and the role of First Nations at such an important international table,” said Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chairman of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government. “That’s what happens when others say they’re looking out for us.”
The Pacific Salmon Treaty has been in place since 1985 and was drafted to fairly and sustainably manage fish interceptions between Canada and the United States.
New deals have been made every 10 years for the past three decades. The last one was concluded in 2019 and the treaty is not due for renewal until 2028.
“We can’t wait until 2028 to fix it,” Hill said.
The Pacific Salmon Treaty should not just focus on the number of fish allowed to be caught, but limit the size of catches of egg-bearing females, Masso said.
“We hope our restoration efforts will lead to a system of abundance, which will hopefully go hand in hand with good stewardship that will lead to abundance coming home,” he said.
Alaska could shut down the worst of its interceptor fisheries and reduce the impact on others by locating its fisheries closer to their own waterways, the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust statement suggested.
“We are working tirelessly to rebuild habitat for wild Pacific salmon, but we need the salmon to come back for our restoration to be effective,” Hutchinson said. “The health of the whole watershed depends on having a lot of salmon coming back and bringing in those marine-derived nutrients that are the fertilizer and that really drive the biodiversity and the health of those watersheds. . We need the salmon to get home.
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