Solutions

Conservation First

The Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) needs to implement management actions that accurately reflect their legal mandate: conservation first, followed by the food social and ceremonial needs of First Nations people before sport and commercial interests that are of equal standing. Recent management decisions and the 2007 IFMP contradict protecting steelhead and weak stock salmon.

What is most troubling is that DFO is using their Wild Salmon Policy to justify allowing weak stocks of steelhead and Salmon to go extinct. All sport fishers and the Canadian public need to tell DFO that this is totally unacceptable. There needs to be a fundamental paradigm shift within DFO away from putting industry interests above conservation and other user groups.

Avoidance

The current fishery allows most of the industrial fishing to occur in the worst possible area at the worst possible time. The mouth of the Skeena River is where all species of Steelhead and Salmon co-migrate in shallow narrow passages into the mainstream river. The bulk of the fishing takes place in late July and early August during the peak migration of Skeena summer steelhead and other non target salmon.

These areas need to be closed to commercial fishing unless they can demonstrate truly selective fishing techniques and behavior.
The fishery must be shifted out of the mouth of the Skeena to other effective fishing grounds where less by-catch occurs.

Selective Fishing

Gill nets are the predominant form of fishing gear used in areas of high incidental by-catch. These nets are indiscriminate killing machines causing short term mortality rates of between 66 and 80%+ for steelhead. This gear type is not and never can be selective as stated by DFO. During the coho crisis the department helped develop tangle tooth nets which catch fish around the mouth instead of the gills and body like traditional gill nets. Although not neccessarily selective by nature, tangle tooth nets allow for the easy release of non target species and when properly used reduce the short term mortality rates to less than 10%. This technology must become mandatory in areas where the well known high interception or by-catch of steelhead and non target salmon occurs. In addition to greatly reducing mortality rates of non target species, tangle tooth nets also produce a much higher quality product than gill nets. These fish can be sold to the restaurant market for triple the price. The industry desperately needs added value prducts to enhance fishers profitability, which is currently dismal at best.

The seine fleet also plays a significant role by inflicting mortality on steelhead and other species. DFO mandates the use of proper brailing techniques (dip netting non target species out of the net before they are brought on board). If done responsibly the mortality rate is between 10-30%. There have been many issues of non-compliance by the seine fleet which greatly increases the associated mortality rates. Video cameras need to be placed on these vessels to ensure compliance.

In-River commercial fisheries need to be expanded using selective fishing methods such as beach seines, fish wheels and weirs. This more traditional approach relies on technology developed by First Nations people. More involvement by Skeena First Nations using selective fishing is an important step in achieving long term conservation objectives and a vibrant wild salmon and steelhead economy. Truly selective fisheries will profit all parties and lead to a sustainable resource that can benefit all Canadians.

The Babine Enhancement facilities need to be shut down until DFO can manage this fishery in a truly selective manner.

Enforcement

Proper enforcement of the commercial fleet by DFO is critical to achieving conservation. 2006 saw a shameful lack of enforcement by the department even though they were WELL aware of the rampant non compliance by commercial fishers on the North Coast.

Due to pressure from the NCSA and our members, DFO has committed to a substantial increase in enforcement in 2007. We need to hold them to task by keeping informed and demanding mandatory video cameras on board each fishing vessel to ensure compliance is taking place. There have been too many reports of intimidation of actual on site observers for us to ingnore.

If the commercial fleet cannot prove compliance, they should be restricted access. Furthermore, individuals must be shut down and charged with non compliance. Repeat offenders must loose their license and suffer heavy fines and jail times. It is simply unacceptable for an industry which poses the greatest risk to steelhead and weak stock salmon, to gain continued access to a public resource if they are not willing to follow the prerequisite conservation measures. We are asking all members to forward any documented evidence you can provide on non-compliant behaviour. Any photos, video or letters to this effect are greatly appreciated.

Model Review & Inputs

There are many concerns with the current Skeena Management Model and how steelhead interception and mortality are calculated. We need an independent review of the science behind the model as it has undergone significant change since its inception in 1993.

Fraser River fisheries managers have a similar model. Last fall a subcommittee reviewed this model and its validity for estimating steelhead interception and mortality. The subcommittee found a host of problems and shortcomings, stating that there is a high probability that the model has been underestimating steelhead mortality by the commercial fleet. Furthermore, both the reviewers and the subcommittee rejected the assertion that the model output constituted a reliable basis for management recommendations calling for more stringent harvest restrictions to reduce steelhead exploitation.

A qualified quantitative scientist needs to review the Skeena Management Model and its accuracy for steelhead mortality so that all stakeholders can take faith in the management decisions dependant on this model.

Further to this, the DFO managers need to be accountable for their inputs on compliance and associated mortality rates. All of the evidence says these input rates were not at all accurate in 2006. Managers need to use realistic compliance taken from enforcement patrol data.

Lastly, associated mortality rates need to be taken from documented scientific studies and documented technical reports, not industry supported anecdotal experiments performed by commercial fishers of questionable motivation. Those studies have not undergone scientific rigor or review.

In short it is well past time for a comprehensive audit of practices and accountability.