The Skeena fishing story is, unfortunately, a sad one again this year.
This season, the Department of Fisheries predicted the Skeena run size to be 2.64 million sockeye. They allowed the commercial fleet to catch 474,081 sockeye or 18 per cent of the run.
The Babine Spawning Channels at the head of the Skeena system are fully loaded with 500,000 sockeye. An additional 300,000 Wild Babine spawners are needed for a total required escapement of 800,000 sockeye into Babine Lake. When all the sockeye reach their spawning grounds, this year, there will be around 1.9 million sockeye in the Babine Lake – about 1.1 million too many. These will be taken by the Lake Babine Nation in a commercial ESSR fishery.
DFO’s own data show that 45 per cent is the optimal catch rate for the Babine Wild stocks, which DFO says have conservation concerns. Our fleet’s catch rate for these stocks is consistently less than 20 per cent while the Lake Babine ESSR fishery takes from 20-30 percent of these same Wild sockeye stocks. If the ESSR fishery did not take place, the commercial fleet could double its harvest of sockeye – and Babine Wild stocks would still be better off.
A 40 per cent harvest would have given the commercial fleet a catch of one million sockeye instead of the 475,000 that DFO thought was enough.
A 40 per cent harvest would have brought an extra $6 million to fishermen and doubled shoreworkers’ earnings. North Coast communities would be a-buzz.
A 40 per cent harvest would have met DFO’s all-Skeena (not just Babine Lake) wild sockeye goal.
A 40 per cent harvest would have still permitted the Lake Babine First Nation a better commercial fishery than either the Tsimshian or the Gitxsan Nations.
Why on earth does DFO maintain their grand experiment on the value of creating a huge Babine Lake fishery while bankrupting the marine fishery? Who knows?
Meanwhile, the Terrace-based steelhead organization called SkeenaWild is holding a $40 per ticket auction fund raiser to “…stop proposed increases in commercial harvest rates”. SkeenaWild’s goal is to enlarge the steelhead sports industry and they do that by demanding the marine fleet reduce our harvests of sockeye – because of our small steelhead bycatch. What really appalls me is that SkeenaWild is so righteous about taking income (fish) from others using a factually wrong, but popular conservation line. Even the provincial minister responsible says that Skeena steelhead runs are at record levels and the issue is not one of conservation, but of who gets what.
In 2009, DFO cut our Skeena sockeye catches in half. It is time to stop the experiment and increase our catch rates to levels that make biological and financial sense.
Northern Representative, UFAWU-Unifor