The federal government has announced tough new restrictions on fishing for chinook salmon in an effort to protect endangered Fraser River stocks.
Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the measures are necessary to save the fish from extinction.
“A lack of action today could mean the extinguishment of some of these runs and ultimately of the Fraser Chinook entirely over time,” he said in an interview.
The federal government said Chinook stocks have been in decline for years due to multiple factors such as fishing, habitat destruction and the effects of climate change.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada determined that 12 of 13 Fraser River chinook populations are at risk.
Wilkinson said the new measures announced Tuesday establish a recreational catch-and-release fishery until the middle of July in most areas to allow the maximum number of Chinook to return to their spawning grounds. After that, fishers will be able to keep one Chinook per day.
“And that is really a function of the fact that the endangered stocks will have moved through these areas by that time,” he said.
In addition, the federal government is closing the commercial fishery for Chinook until Aug. 20.
“We’re also restricting food and ceremonial access for First Nations until July 15,” Wilkinson said.
He acknowledged that the measures will have a negative impact on many people.
“I certainly understand the perspective the recreational fishing community,” he said. “I used to be a fishing guide and my father used to own a fishing camp. So I do understand that.
“And what I think we’re striving to do today is to ensure that we’re actually protecting these stocks for the future.”
Besides the new fishing restrictions, Wilkinson announced a series of talks with First Nations, the B.C. government and other groups over the next few weeks to discuss broader issues affecting salmon stocks.
The specific measures announced by the government include:
• Catch and release of Chinook in southern B.C. — including Johnstone Strait and Northern Strait of Georgia — until July 14 followed by a daily limit of one Chinook per person until Dec. 31.
• Catch and release of Chinook in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the southern Strait of Georgia until July 31 and then a limit of one per person per day from until Dec. 31.
• Catch and release of Chinook in West Coast Vancouver Island offshore areas until July 14 followed by a limit of two per day until Dec. 31.
• A limit of two Chinook per day on West Coast Vancouver Island inshore waters once at the risk Chinook stocks have passed through.
• The closure of Fraser River recreational salmon fisheries until at least Aug. 23.
• A reduction in the total annual limit from 30 to 10 Chinook per person.