Members and supporters of the Fraser River Sportfishing Defence Alliance are set to sink their fishing rods into Fraser River gravel bars Wednesday (Sept. 9) in a “demonstration” fishery to showcase traditional bar-fishing techniques.
It is going ahead despite their proposal for a test fishery having been turned down officially by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) due to critically low sockeye numbers, and a 2020 management plan geared to protecting them.
“We’ve had enough. It’s time to stand up and be accounted for,” said Dean Werk, one of the organizers of the demonstration fishery, and president of the Fraser River Salmon Society. “This is about standing together for our rights to a public fishery.”
Part of the problem is that the “selective” nature of bar fishing, using a shorter leader length, has not been given a fair shake by DFO officials.
“They said they don’t have the regulatory tools to enforce it, but it’s time they did,” Werk said.
The hope is that the bar-fishing data they collect will bolster their argument that a selective fishing method is possible to avoid stocks of concern.
“The purpose of this activity is to gather information which can be presented as proof that recreational bar fishing is not the problem, but a sustainable method of fishing,” according to organizers.
Bar fishers fish will fish from shore using a short leader length of three feet maximum, and heavier weights. They use a single, barbless hook from a fixed fishing rod, and a lure known as a spin-n-glow.
Fred Helmer of Fred’s Custom Tackle has been blogging about the one-day demonstration, and calling for angler support. It’s a chance to show that “the opportunity to fish on the Fraser River can and should be allowed during times of abundance.”
Shutting the recreational sector out of the river has been a “flawed” course of action, he said.
“The DFO decisions to completely shut the recreational fishing down is flawed beyond any common sense,” Helmer wrote. “The lack of consideration with the impact on species of concern using a proposed traditional bar fishery was dismissed by DFO completely. The rationale strongly suggests that DFO has painted itself in a corner that allows political agendas to override good decision-making and prudent management.”
Everyone’s right to a “public fishery” is at risk, and Helmer thanked the event organizers and supporters who are “busting their butts to address this crisis.”
The fishermen will be spread out on the Fraser from Harrison Bar to Grassy Bar.
But with Fraser sockeye numbers down to critical levels, and the necessity to provide First Nations with FSC opportunities for chinook, the major concern of DFO officials is still the risk of incidental by-catch.
“Conservation and the sustainable use of the resource is a top priority in Fisheries and Ocean Canada’s management of B.C. salmon populations,” DFO media spokesperson Lara Sloan Sloan said in an emailed statement on Aug. 31.
“With the very low return, all fisheries of Fraser River Sockeye are closed.”
There have been no licensed commercial, recreational, or First Nations FSC (food, social and ceremonial fisheries) for Fraser Sockeye, in any fisheries this year.
“Any fisheries which may encounter these stocks are required to make every effort to release sockeye alive and unharmed and all fisheries will be managed to keep Fraser sockeye impacts to an absolute minimum,” Sloan added. “We need to give every single sockeye a chance to reach their spawning grounds to rebuild their populations.
“Even incidental catch and release of Sockeye alongside fishing directed at chinook has the possibility of mortality. In addition, Harrison River Chinook (Fall 41) are threatened and the spawning requirements are not expected to be achieved. Fraser Chinook management measures are also intended to further reduce fishery mortalities on this stock to support spawning escapement objectives in the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
“Consistent with salmon allocation priorities and the constitutional right to fish for FSC purposes, the Department is also providing First Nations with FSC harvest opportunities for Chinook.
“However, we do not expect that FSC needs will be met in the Fraser River so recreational and commercial fisheries are not being planned, which is consistent with allocation priorities,” Sloan added.
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