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DFO shuts down 79 commercial salmon fisheries

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced today (June 29) the closures of 79 salmon fisheries as part of Phase 2 of the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI) — leaving the future of commercial salmon harvesters in doubt.

The $647 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI) launched by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard on June 8, 2021 aims to stem, what the federal government calls, “the devastating historic declines in key Pacific salmon stocks and rebuild these species to a sustainable level.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is taking immediate steps … by implementing extensive closures to commercial salmon fisheries in areas with significant stocks of conservation concern, beginning with the 2021 fishing season; transitioning to a smaller commercial harvesting sector through a salmon licence retirement program, and; consulting with First Nations harvesters to shift to more selective fishing gear or, where available, to other non-salmon species,” the DFO said in a statement.

“The closures include gill net fisheries along with a number of seine and troll fisheries that impact stocks of concern directly or encounter stocks of concern as by-catch. The closures are intended to increase the number of salmon reaching spawning areas. Where commercial fishery closures are in place to conserve specific sockeye, pink and chum salmon stocks, recreational retention fisheries will also be restricted consistent with salmon allocation priorities. However, recreational chinook and coho fisheries have a higher salmon allocation priority and would not be impacted in the same manner.”

The announcement has UFAWU-Unifor, the union that represents commercial salmon harvesters worried about the sustainability of the industry and whether the measures are actually called for.

“Today’s closure announcements are deeply concerning. The abruptness of the announcement, and lack of transparency for how these specific closures were decided, have blindsided harvesters,” UFAWU-Unifor business agent Emily Orr said.

“If harvesters are going to be squeezed out of salmon fisheries, the people who earn their livings from those fisheries need to be compensated.”

The union did say, however, that DFO’s other announcement of a Pacific Salmon Commercial Transition Program — which will see some harvesters compensated for their licences — is a positive step forward.

However, they say, the announcement of 79 closures will only cause more complications for those who wish to remain in the industry.

“While it’s widely agreed that a licence retirement program is needed, it is only one part of what should be a multi-pronged approach to solving the issues in salmon fisheries,” Orr said.

“Pinniped reduction has to be part of the equation. We need habitat restoration and investments in hatcheries.”

Despite a May 27, 2021, The Future Of B.C. Commercial Fishing Report released by UFAWU-Unifor and ten other salmon harvester organizations, the union said commercial harvesters are yet to see any meaningful consultation in regard to the decisions being made for their industry.

“What is DFO’s vision for the future of commercial salmon fisheries,” Orr said.

“We sincerely hope that DFO plans to address these equally critical components of managing salmon for a viable future for stocks, fisheries, and harvesters.”

DFO did state that First Nations will be engaged in consultation to address the impact on communal commercial salmon harvesters.

“Many First Nations in B.C. and Yukon hold communal commercial salmon licences, providing them commercial access to the fisheries. Consultations will begin in the coming weeks to address the impacts on First Nations economic fisheries due to declining salmon returns. Among the options to be explored are shifting to more selective fishing gear (if possible to avoid stocks of concern) or, where available, to other non-salmon species, such as halibut for example,” the DFO stated in its release.

‘The goal is to work collaboratively with each First Nation to understand the interests of their community, and find the right solution that provides continued economic benefits while reducing impacts on wild salmon.

“Under PSSI, DFO will also be consulting with First Nations food social, and ceremonial (FSC) fishers on opportunities to transition to more selective fishing approaches and gear where cost may otherwise be a barrier to do so. Supporting selective gear and approaches will contribute to salmon conservation goals and make it easier for First Nation harvesters to engage in food, social and ceremonial fisheries.

Todd Hamilton

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Todd Hamilton

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