Greg Taylor, Watershed Watch fisheries advisor
Last week, Watershed Watch’s Greg Taylor, Jesse Zeman from BC Wildlife Federation and Misty McDuffee from Raincoast Conservation Foundation, met with MP Mel Arnold to discuss the impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries on the Fraser River.
Reports from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)’s Conservation & Protection Branch confirm that numerous nets were fishing from Steveston through Lillooet when endangered sockeye, Chinook, and steelhead were migrating in 2020, when all but some very limited communal and Treaty fisheries were closed. Over 300 gillnets were seized, but reports suggest that this did little to blunt the fishery. No charges were laid in 2020.
IUU fisheries are a significant conservation problem. Although DFO managers are aware of the issue, the catch from IUU fisheries is not accounted for by fishery managers. In other words, when planning and managing salmon fisheries and considering their impacts on endangered stocks, DFO essentially pretends there is no illegal, unreported or unregulated catch. But according to Greg Taylor, the IUU fishery could well be the largest single source of fishing-related mortality on endangered Chinook. He also suggests the situation may be similar for endangered Early Stuart sockeye and Interior Fraser steelhead. There are also many pictures and videos of protected juvenile sturgeon being killed.
Enforcement is only part of the answer. Federal fishery officers do not have the resources to police the entire river. Moreover, the government appears reluctant to support charges being laid.
To begin to address this critical conservation issue, DFO, in partnership with others, needs to monitor the river on a daily basis, estimate fishing effort (using boats, drones, aircraft, etc.) and catch (based on what the very few legal fisheries that are open are catching), and make the results public. Only then can we understand the true impacts of IUU fisheries on endangered salmon populations and then have an open dialogue on how to deal with them.