Northern Branch Letter to DFO's Sue Farlinger

Rob Browns letter via Jessea Grice to DFO

Steelhead Society of British Columbia - Northern Branch
P.O. Box# 126
Telkwa B.C.
Canada
V0J 2X0

Sue Farlinger
Regional Director General
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Suite 200 - 401 Burrard Street
Vancouver B.C.
Canada
V6C 3S4

Dear Ms. Farlinger:

The letter of 10 May 2011 from the Assistant Deputy Minister
for the Coast Area, Jody Shimkus, to you, has been circulated and
discussed by the members of the Northern Branch of the Steelhead
Society of B.C.

As long time advocates for steelhead, we are pleased to see
that the Ministry of the Environment and Fisheries and Oceans
Canada appear to be giving greater attention to the plight of our
province’s steelhead stocks.

While we endorse ADM Shimkus’ recommendations and see
their adoption as significant step toward alleviating some of the many
problems that face our wild steelhead stocks, we feel that her
suggestions do not go far enough to address the crisis our steelhead
face.

We have the luxury of being unencumbered by
intergovernmental protocols. Our concern moves us to speak clearly
and directly. Our forthrightness grows out of decades of frustration
over the federal government’s unwillingness to embrace obvious
solutions that would have (and still can) stave off the extirpation of
steelhead. Please don’t take this directness as confrontational but
rather as a reflection of our appreciation of the urgent need to protect
what remains of our steelhead stocks.

We believe that the welfare of all Pacific Salmon is inextricably
linked to the health of its most fragile stock. We understood this and
adopted it as our fundamental operating principle long before Gro
Brundtland’s Commission went public with the concept of biodiversity,
and years before the idea became the scientific consensus. Since
biodiversity is now axiomatic, the endangerment of Thompson River
steelhead must be seen as a symptom of a sickness affecting all
Fraser salmon.

The extinction of a race of fish demands drastic action. In the
case of Thompson Steelhead, modifying the gillnet fisheries is not
enough. They must cease. Gill nets are a relic of a bygone age. That
they are still tolerated in Canada is our shame. The First Nations
along the Fraser River did not use gill nets traditionally. They must
revert to traditional methods.

The misuse of water and land adjacent to the Thompson and its
effect on the tributary streams so vital to the well being of salmonids
is well known. As stewards of the salmon, your department has to
start dealing with the assault on fisheries habitat in that area
vigorously.

We don’t agree with ADM Shimkus’ assertion that the issues
surrounding the management of Skeena steelhead are “not currently
driven by a conservation concern.” The minimum escapement figures
suggested by the Pacific Salmon Assessment and Review
Committee (PSARC) in their report many years ago are questionable
since the methodology used by the scientists on the committee was
not rigorous enough. A much better way to assess the historic
abundance of steelhead on the Skeena system is to examine the
historic catch figures generated by the commercial fishery throughout

the twentieth century. Doing this suggests that steelhead, like all
species of Skeena salmon, were far more abundant then than they
are now. The fact that these fish, like chum salmon and races of
sockeye other than the enhanced Babine stocks, were exposed to
harvest rates set to maximize the killing of artificially enhanced
sockeye stocks of Fulton and Pinkut sockeye for over a century
suggests that their numbers must be considerably reduced.

The forest mining euphemistically know as logging in this
province has compromised many Skeena streams. In the first half of
the last century, spawning streams were mined for gravel to build
roads. Other salmon bearing streams had roadbeds laid through
them. Hundreds had their riparian vegetation stripped. To pretend
that this violence done to fish habitat did not have an adverse effect
on steelhead is naïve.

Though they are not as extensive as those in the lower
mainland, urban development and agricultural development have
also had a deleterious effect on Skeena’s salmon.

Exacerbating all these crippling factors is climate change. Over
the last 40 years the retreat of glaciers has affected flow regimes and
water temperature on our streams. The problem can only get worse,
and would continue to worsen, according to the climatologists, even if
carbon emissions were halted tomorrow. The precautionary principle
suggests that the more steelhead there are, the better their chance of
species’ survival.

The Skeena gill net fishery is wasteful. A gillnet can’t be fished
selectively. Tangle tooth nets can, as has been demonstrated by
former gillnet fishers Fred and Linda Hawkshaw on the Skeena and
Mark Petrunia on the Fraser. Fisheries and Oceans Canada could
have encouraged – even mandated – the use of those selective nets.
Instead they encouraged the adoption of preposterous measures like
holding boxes, shorter gill nets, short set times, and weed lines,
which were little more than cosmetic measures that did nothing to
meaningfully address the interception on non target species.

If the Department of Fisheries and Oceans actually wanted to
address the problem of by-catch, they would have striven to gather

robust data on the number of steelhead intercepted in the net
fisheries. This data could have been gathered using surveillance
cameras and by having fisheries officers board boats to ascertain
how many steelhead had been caught or by having monitors aboard
boat as a condition of license. Instead of these measures DFO relied
upon hail figures: data gathered by fisheries officers who powered up
next to boats and politely asked skippers, whose profits could be
affected by disclosing the number of steelhead they caught, how
many steelhead they had on board. It is our understanding that this
hail data can now be phoned in by the fishermen. You can appreciate
why we have no confidence in data gathered this way.

The DFO staff could have had personnel in the canneries to
look for steelhead brought there. The Ministry of the Environment
hired J.O. Thomas and Associates to do this. The contractor’s reports
(a matter of public record) state that they witnessed totes of
steelhead moving through these facilities unreported.

The gill net fishery is unsustainable and would not have
survived this long had the taxpayer not subsidized it. We don’t mind
tax subsidies that create employment, but paying people to use an
antiquated and ecologically harmful technology to deplete a common
property resource is unconscionable.

Chasing salmon in the sea with a boat, as seiners and trollers
do, is illogical and wasteful. The former can be tolerated only so long
as they act responsibly by bringing their nets alongside their boats
and brailing non target species before closing their nets and hauling
the catch on board then spilling the contents of bag onto the deck.

Gillnetting, seining, and trolling are all inefficient wasteful ways
to fish when the catch could be caught in the river by employing
beach seines, fish wheels, traps, and dip nets. These fishing
methods are easier to police, provide better escapement data, and
are selective. First Nations employed them for ages before
Europeans arrived and reported staggering salmon abundance.
Despite the efficacy of these fishing methods, your department has
only reluctantly allowed them, and then only after we brought
international attention to the issue.

It’s clear that the dying gill net fishery has to cease. It’s also
clear that the other components of the salt water salmon fishery need
to be put on notice that they will be greatly curtailed and eventually
phased out while FOC does its utmost to go back to the future by
encouraging the in river fishing techniques mentioned above.

Your department has long been an enabler for commercial
fishing interests to the detriment of the stocks federal law insists they
must protect. The way they have treated steelhead in Skeena
underscored their failure to execute their mandate. We think it’s
scandalous.

We don’t need band-aid solutions. We need a massive
reorganization of you branch of the civil service and a paradigm shift
in fisheries management. You have the blue print for such change.
It’s called the Wild Salmon Policy.

Sincerely,

Jessea Grice
Chairperson
Steelhead Society of British Columbia - Northern Branch