VANCOUVER — The federal government's most recent data on Fraser River chinook salmon is so dire that that the fisheries should be closed, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.
"The situation for Fraser River chinook couldn't be worse. We're asking the government to immediately close chinook fisheries to protect these fish and the endangered southern resident killer whales that depend on them for food. Our message to chinook fisheries is: Don't wait for closures; volunteer now to stop fishing chinook," says David Suzuki Foundation Western Canada director Jay Ritchlin.
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British Columbia has experienced poor Fraser chinook salmon returns in recent years, but we're now at a critical point where returns are so low that emergency actions are warranted, both for chinook and for endangered marine mammals.
A committee responsible for reviewing the status of wildlife in Canada will be assessing Fraser chinook in 2018. Given this year's exceptionally poor returns, it is likely these populations will also be assessed as threatened or endangered, justifying proactive closures of fisheries that target Fraser chinook.
"In light of the poor returns so far, it's alarming that South Coast marine recreational fisheries are still open," Ritchlin says. "Fishers are still catching up to two chinook salmon per person per day, and they shouldn't be."
Fisheries and Oceans Canada's science clearly shows southern resident killer whales depend on Fraser chinook salmon to survive. Canada's Species at Risk Act requires the government to identify conditions necessary for killer whale recovery. The recent Action Plan for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) in Canada identifies addressing chinook salmon availability as a top priority. Similarly, the Review of the Effectiveness of Recovery Measures for Southern Resident Killer Whales produced for Fisheries and Oceans also prioritizes more conservative chinook management.
Even Alaska, the Pacific Salmon Commission partner which has been most reluctant in the past to reduce its chinook fishery, has closed all fisheries for chinook salmon. This is an important precedent and critical to the ongoing renegotiation of the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty.
"I'm concerned that Canada's failure to support chinook salmon conservation could severely undermine its credibility and position in these negotiations," Ritchlin says.
Scientists at the Foundation sounded the alarm after reviewing the latest in-season information provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada last week, which recorded the Albion test fishery's overview of total chinook salmon returns to the Fraser River.
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Jay Ritchlin, Director General for Western Canada
David Suzuki Foundation