Undated file photo of chinook salmon.

Poor return puts Fraser River fish allocation debate on hold

Amount of Chinook salmon expected on Fraser below threshold, DFO says

A predicted poor return of chinook salmon this summer has sidelined a decision on a controversial proposal to transfer part of the Fraser River chinook allocation from recreational fishermen to First Nations groups.

On Monday, Jeff Grout, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regional resource manager of salmon, said the final in-season assessment is predicting a chinook return to the Fraser River of about 43,000 this season.

That is below the minimum threshold of 45,000, considered the “lowest zone of abundance” below which stricter measures are taken to preserve fish stocks.

“As a result, the department is implementing management actions for First Nations, recreational and commercial fisheries that are intended to substantially reduce impacts on Fraser chinook stocks of concern” Grout said in his emailed response to a News query.

On the Fraser River, Grout said First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries will be reduced.

Fraser River recreational fisheries will remain closed to fishing for salmon through July 31.

In marine fisheries, recreational fisheries in the Juan de Fuca area will remain open but with restrictions to limit interceptions of large, wild chinook, including the Fraser chinook stocks and only smaller or hatchery origin chinook may be kept.

Commercial troll fisheries have had time and area closures put in place as well.

That doesn’t mean the debate over the proposed allocation swap is over, warned Fred Helmer, one of the spokespersons for the Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance (FRSA) a new coalition of Fraser River fishing guides, recreational anglers and industry reps formed to oppose the proposed allocation swap.

If the chinook return turns out to be better than expected, the recreational industry would like to have an assurance that their share won’t be given away, Helmer said.

“At some point, we’re going to see some fish show up (above the threshold). So where are we then?”

Helmer

Fred Helmer

The DFO move was not a surprise to Ken Malloway, chair of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, which represents 30 bands on the lower Fraser.

He also believes the allocation issue could be revived if it turns out the chinook return is bigger than the DFO projections.

On the weekend, Malloway said First Nations fishermen had an 18-hour fishery for set nets, and six hours for drift nets on the Fraser.

The allocation swap proposal was put forward by First Nations representatives during a series of meetings with DFO in January, March and April to consult on conservation and harvest planning for Fraser River salmon.

The amounts allocated to different user groups vary depending on the type and number of available fish, but a look at one popular category of chinook shows First Nations fishermen have received the largest share.

Figures provided to the News by DFO for 2010 to 2014 show that on average, First Nations fishing the Fraser River were allocated roughly 80 per cent of “Spring 5-2 and Summer 5-2,” the larger five-year-old chinook that have spent two years in fresh water.

During the same period, recreational fishermen on the Fraser were allocated 11 per cent