There are over 250 populations of wild salmon and steelhead spread out across seven fisheries management regions in our beautiful province. Each year, I take a look at the forecasts provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and make some predictions about what commercial fishers can expect from the season ahead.
My outlook for the 2022 salmon season is a mixed bag. While certainly better than the dour outlooks of the past two years; it supports the fisheries minister’s conclusion that ‘business as usual’ is over for the commercial fishery.
DFO classifies expected returns of wild salmon into four categories: ‘expected to return well below target,’ ‘below target,’ ‘around target,’ and ‘abundant’. This year, almost every recreational and commercial fishery will catch a mix of salmon populations and species, running the gamut from ‘well below target’ to ‘around target’, with very few being ‘abundant.’
This requires managers to emphasize fishing techniques and practices that catch the target population while avoiding salmon populations expected to return below targets, and to ensure salmon discarded in these fisheries to survive to spawn.
Take this year’s Fraser sockeye return, for example. Of the 23 populations expected to be encountered in the fishery, 11 are projected to return ‘well below target’ and 7 ‘abundant,’ with the balance somewhere in between. It is impossible–under the current management, monitoring, and enforcement regime–to protect weak stocks while harvesting the abundant ones. Presumably, this is why the minister included the Fraser sockeye fishery on the list of fisheries to be closed in 2021.
In 2021 DFO fisheries managers went rogue, ignoring the fisheries minister’s announcement of sweeping closures. And in 2022, it appears we can expect more of the same. 2022 is the dominant year for several of the 23 Fraser sockeye populations. Managers have already said they intend to open the fishery in 2022, even though many Fraser sockeye populations are forecast to return well below target, and some have been classified as ‘endangered.’ It is unclear what DFO intends to do in regards to the many other fisheries the minister slated for closure in 2021.
So, here we are facing a fishing season with a mixed bag of returns and a department as yet unwilling to reduce impacts on salmon and steelhead populations that are expected to return below their biological targets, monitor fisheries for compliance, or embrace the minister’s commitments to closures for conservation purposes. Watershed Watch is currently engaged, on behalf of the Pacific Marine Conservation Caucus, in discussions with DFO to encourage them to implement the minister’s commitments.
So what are my predictions? DFO has given little indication thus far that there will be significant changes in this year’s fishing plans. In fact, there is some concern the few fisheries closed as per the minister’s announcement in 2021, may actually be opened again in 2022.
Unless the minister is willing to make sure DFO’s regional managers fall in line, I predict mostly business as usual for B.C.’s fisheries, with a few tweaks, lots of positive press releases and announcements, but little relief for struggling wild salmon populations.
Much of the above speaks to the commercial fishery, which for many species and populations, has a relatively minor impact compared to First Nations, Alaskan, and recreational fisheries. There has been little discussion of any changes in these fisheries.