Heavy sedimentation and debris from last summer’s fires barricaded the Bonaparte River fishway, the pathway to steelhead spawning grounds. An assessment of two populations has confirmed a 2018 emergency survey that found the fish are at risk of extinction. (Black Press file photo)

Heavy sedimentation and debris from last summer’s fires barricaded the Bonaparte River fishway, the pathway to steelhead spawning grounds. An assessment of two populations has confirmed a 2018 emergency survey that found the fish are at risk of extinction. (Black Press file photo)

Investigation confirms dire situation of B.C. steelhead

Endangered species report will again go to Ottawa for SARA consideration

A thorough risk assessment of Chilcotin and Thompson steelhead trout has confirmed the results of a previous survey declaring the fish at risk of extinction. The latest findings mean the fish will again be considered for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Last year the the federal government declined to list the steelhead after the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) submitted the findings of a rare emergency assessment. The government said protection under SARA would be prohibition based and therefore not lead to timely, proactive steps to increase the species’ productivity.

In their 2020 Species Assessments released in November, COSEWIC again looked at the Interior Fraser steelhead, but this time under its regular process with heightened scrutiny and peer-reviewed conclusions. Although the findings are the same as 2018 — “endangered” — standard procedure will push the file back to the government for SARA consideration.

READ MORE: Federal government will not list Steelhead under Species at Risk Act

“The conclusion really does not change anything about the status of these fish. It confirms their status as endangered,” COSEWIC chair John Reynolds said. “But I honestly think we could lose both of these populations within a couple of steelhead generations unless something changes.”

In lieu of a SARA listing, in July last year the federal and provincial governments announced a Joint Action Plan to reduce fishing-related mortality, remove significant barriers to migration and reduce ongoing habitat destruction. Additional measures are being taken over the longer term to remediate degraded habitat.

Options are also being explored to address the causes of natural mortality, such as seal predation, and to augment wild populations with hatchery fish.

A SARA listing would make it illegal to kill, harm, harass, or capture steelhead, triggering new protections and disrupting or shutting down legal salmon fisheries for First Nations and the commercial sector.

To limit bycatch of the endangered fish, the province wants the federal government to implement 77 days of closures on salmon fisheries, protecting 95 per cent of steelhead during their 82-day run time.

Last season DFO issued closures for just 27 days, which the province said DFO plans to do again next year.

“These measures fall short of the level of protection needed to give the species a chance to recover,” an e-mail from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource operations and Rural Development reads.

Bob Hooton, a retired biologist and fisheries section head for the B.C. ministry of environment, now a writer and steelhead advocate, said the crisis will continue as fisheries are allowed to remain open while steelhead are migrating.

“Down tools. There’s no way around it,” he said. “If there’s one thing that’s completely under our control, it’s managing the harvest. It’s the most immediate and most effective thing you can do for any fishery.”

In the next few weeks the province plans to unveil a new online platform to improve public access to the current management information, science fact sheets and progress updates on steelhead populations.

COSEWIC will submit its full report to the federal government around the fall of 2021. The Governor in Council will consider listing the steelhead under SARA based on the findings and consultations with Indigenous communities, stakeholders and organizations, including wildlife management boards. The economic and social implications of the listing will also be considered.

– With files from Barbara Roden

READ MORE: Permanent fishway approved for Big Bar landslide site



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

DFOFisheries and Oceans Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asher Hauknes shows his strength with Prince Rupert Gymnastics head coach Erin Hipkiss looking on Nov. 13. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Gymnastics Association benefits from Community Gaming Grant

Prince Rupert sports club to receive just less than $90,000 to build new facility

The COVID-19 outbreak at the two Coastal GasLink workforce lodges has officially been declared over. (Lakes District News file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Coastal GasLink worksites declared over

In total, 56 cases were associated with the outbreak in the Burns Lake and Nechako LHAs

Prince Rupert Fire Rescue was dispatched to a boat fire on Jan. 21 at Fairview Marina. (Photo: supplied)
Boat fire under investigation

Prince Rupert Fire Rescue attended boat fire at Fairview Marina

Toronto-based director Michelle Latimer was recently scrutinized after years of claiming she was of Algonquin and Metis descent. (CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
Haida activist calls for hefty fines, jail time against those who claim to be Indigenous

Filmmaker Tamara Bell proposing the Indigenous Identity Act – to dissuade ‘Indigenous identity theft’

Prince Rupert lawyer, Donald A. Silversides has been appointed to the BC Liberals Election Organizing Committee, announced the party on Jan 21. (Contributed photo)
Don Silversides appointed to BC Liberal election organizing committee

Prince Rupert lawyer is the current BC Liberals acting president

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. in 2018. The First Nations Leadership Council says an attempt by industry to overturn the phasing out of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands in contrary to their inherent Title and Rights. (THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward photo)
First Nations Leadership Council denounces attempt to overturn salmon farm ban

B.C.’s producers filed for a judicial review of the Discovery Islands decision Jan. 18

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

More than 100 B.C. fishermen, fleet leaders, First Nations leaders and other salmon stakeholders are holding a virtual conference Jan. 21-22 to discuss a broad-range of issues threatening the commercial salmon fishery. (Black Press file photo)
B.C. commercial salmon fishermen discuss cures for an industry on the brink

Two-day virtual conference will produce key reccomendations for DFO

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

Most Read