Federal government shifts to catch-and-release recreational chinook fishing off B.C.’s south coast to recover at-risk chinook, orcas

VANCOUVER – Today’s announcement of chinook salmon fishing reductions is a significant contribution to the recovery of chinook populations in the Fraser River and along B.C.’s coast. While the move to catch-and-release fishing of Fraser chinook along the south coast will help protect chinook, strong monitoring and enforcement will be needed to ensure rules are followed and mortalities of released fish are minimal.

“Many populations of wild chinook that migrate through the Fraser River are near total collapse,” David Suzuki Foundation senior science and policy analyst Jeffery Young said. “We need immediate action like these reductions to protect this ecologically, culturally and economically important salmon.”

The measures implemented today are part of a broader effort by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to protect and restore Chinook populations, long-advocated for by the David Suzuki Foundation, and which must also include habitat protections.

The closures come after a December 2018 report found that only one of 16 studied South Coast chinook populations was healthy. The scientific committee that assesses the status of Canada’s wildlife then found that Fraser River chinook meet the criteria for endangered and threatened under the Species at Risk Act.

“We recognize that these restrictions pose a challenge for the recreational fishing sector, but they improve the chances of stronger fisheries in the future,” Young said. “It’s unfortunate that the chinook population is in such a drastic state that fishing restrictions are needed. At this stage, even the mortality rates associated with catch-and-release could still have negative effects.”

The recovery of chinook salmon populations is crucial for the health of the ecosystem as a whole, the health of the economies of nearby coastal communities and the future of the 75 remaining southern resident orcas. Chinook salmon is the main food source for the endangered orcas; their decline is the main survival challenge for the whales. Every chinook salmon that remains in the water has a chance to either feed an endangered species or swim to spawning grounds and help rebuild the population.

“Chinook populations have reached a point where ongoing fishing puts them at further risk of extinction,” Young said. “Fisheries reductions are a key component of a comprehensive chinook rebuilding plan.”

Further action is needed to fully recover at-risk chinook salmon populations. The David Suzuki Foundation is calling on the federal government to immediately prioritize science-based recovery plans, which must be completed before it’s possible to identify safe harvest levels. Only wild adult chinook that have survived to the point of spawning contain the critical genes necessary to rebuild wild populations that can adapt to a challenging environment. Scientific evidence shows that the use of artificial hatcheries to try to boost chinook numbers presents significant risks to wild chinook and should not be viewed as a solution.

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Brendan Glauser, David Suzuki Foundation: bglauser@davidsuzuki.org, 604-356-8829