How many endangered Chinook salmon should be killed in fisheries? And how many endangered Chinook salmon are actually killed in fisheries? Answering these questions about endangered fish is job number one of any credible, modern fisheries management agency anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, DFO is not abiding by United Nations agreements and Canada’s own national policies under the Sustainable Fisheries Framework, which require DFO to develop recovery targets for endangered fish popuations and a monitoring regime to determine if the targets are being achieved. When it comes to salmon, DFO refuses to implement the monitoring, management, and assessments they recognize as necessary if they are to answer these questions.

Before the 2019 fishing season, in response to many Fraser Chinook populations being listed as endangered, and recognizing that these same fish are also critical to the recovery of Southern Resident Killer Whales; the Minister set a 5% total mortality cap on these endangered Chinook. This was meant to be an interim measure until rebuilding targets were finalized. 

However, when planning began for the 2020 fishing season, Watershed Watch and our allies asked DFO the obvious question: what were the total mortalities on Fraser Chinook populations in 2019? “We don’t know. We don’t have the necessary information,” was the response of DFO’s lead manager, Jeff Grout.

So here we were left, being asked to provide advice on planning the 2020 season, not knowing if the 2019 management measures achieved the 5% cap set by the Minister.

To try to tackle this impossible situation, Watershed Watch Salmon Society partnered with Coastland Research to develop a model using DFO’s Chinook catch, release, and genetic data to estimate how many endangered Chinook were killed in 2019, and identify what could be done to make these estimates easier and more transparent going forward.

We estimated that the Minister’s maximum mortality directive was exceeded by 2.5 times in 2019. We also recommended raising the recreational industry’s catch, compliance, release mortality, and genetic stock monitoring requirements up to international standards, and to what is often required of the commercial fishery. DFO can not responsibly manage these fisheries if they don’t know how many fish are being caught from these endangered populations, whether fishers are following the rules and how many of these endangered fish are surviving after being caught and released. 

After months of work by First Nations and our conservation allies, Watershed Watch’s results and recommendations were mostly accepted by DFO managers, but they have yet to be implemented

Recovery of both Chinook and orcas will be more difficult, if not impossible, until the Minister does what is required of her by Canada’s new Fisheries Act and national policies.  Endangered Chinook will likely be once again overfished this year relative to conservation objectives.  If she wants to achieve her objectives, the minister must insist that her managers implement the necessary catch and release, compliance, and genetic stock monitoring measures. Anything less is likely to fail. 

As you read this, the Minister is making her decision on how fisheries impacting endangered Chinook will be managed in 2020 without DFO managers providing her answers to those two essential questions: How many endangered Chinook salmon should be killed in fisheries? And how many actually are?

But you can answer the first question. Write to the Minister ( and tell her that until final decisions are made as to how many endangered Chinook should be, and are, killed in fisheries, she should require that the 5% total mortality cap remain in place for 2020 and that verifiable monitoring be required of all fisheries to ensure it is achieved.