Joy Thorkelson has made some wrong assumptions in her letter to the editor of Oct. 1. She continues to oversimplify the harvest rate conservation of Skeena River sockeye salmon. Her opinion, as she has said so many times in the past, is that there has been an over escapement of Babine Lake enhanced sockeye stocks.
She claims that a surplus of 1.1 million sockeye ended up in the lake that were harvested by First Nations. If the Babine Lake First Nation fishery had not taken place, those same fish could have been harvested by commercial fishermen at the mouth of the Skeena River creating a boon to Prince Rupert and area to the tune of about $6 million.
Is Joy implying that the Babine First Nation fishery is not a wise harvest strategy at the source where almost no bycatch of other species occurs (other than large lake rainbow and lake char)? We suspect this lake fishery generated considerable income that was a big boost to the economy of the upper river communities and to Prince Rupert where the fish were processed.
Joy also said that Skeena Wild Conservation Trust, through a fundraising event, has a goal to stop future increases in commercial sockeye harvest rates. We are not sure if that is the trust’s goal but it is the goal of our Northern Branch of the Steelhead Society of BC and a number of other conservation and angler organizations who are very concerned over the slow rebuilding of Skeena summer steelhead stocks.
Joy also said that Skeena steelhead are at record numbers this year but from where did she obtain that information? The latest data from Mark Beere, Senior Fishery Biologist for the Provincial Fishery Branch, Skeena Region, Smithers is from September 17, 2014.
It refers to an estimated 31,821 steelhead escapement. The annual average escapement for these fish is 35,739. Contrary to her information, the report shows a decline in the number of steelhead rather than a record increase? The Pacific Stock Assessment Review committee established a maximum sustained yield target number of 35,000 steelhead which has only been achieved 13 times (22 per cent) out of 58 years the Tyee Test Fishery has operated. We think many more years of rebuilding will be necessary before the target is met.
Joy said the Skeena Wild goal is to encourage a larger steelhead sport fishery. We doubt that is the case. Fisheries conservation is the Skeena Wild mandate, they are not an advocate organization for anglers.
“Sadly” the fish politics and the debate over the “bycatch of steelhead, other salmon and small distinct sockeye stocks” will never stop so long as there is a gillnet fishery. It is “impossible” to create a selective fishery that will not catch other species and stocks. This fishing method has to stop or alternately reduce the number of gillnetters to a more manageable 100 or less boats in Area 4 that must not be allowed to fish known areas where steelhead congregate.
Jim Culp, chairman of Northern Branch of the Steelhead Society of B.C.