Dean Werk, president of the Fraser Valley Salmon Society, at the Fraser River boat launch at Island 22 Regional Park. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Disastrous sportfishing season on the Fraser River a ‘wakeup call’

Big Bar slide curtailed Fraser fishing opportunities for 2019, affecting the economy

The sportfishing season on the Fraser River was almost a complete write-off as a result of the double-whammy of serious conservation concerns and the Big Bar landslide.

That’s the word on the 2019 season, according to Dean Werk, president of the Fraser Valley Salmon Society, and there’s lots of work to be done to avoid another disastrous season in 2020.

The Big Bar slide on the Fraser, which saw a Herculean multi-agency effort to get trapped fish past a rockslide, played a key role. There was only a short window to take action before fish returned to the river last summer, and government officials did everything possible together with area First Nations to restore some form of natural fish passage for spawners by September.

READ MORE: Sockeye head down to Cultus Lake lab

But there were no recreational salmon fishery openings in the non-tidal portions of the Fraser all season long, Werk said. It was also described as the worst commercial fishing season in 50 years by fishing industry leaders.

The pre-season estimate was for a median forecast of almost five million sockeye salmon to return to the Fraser River, but by the end of summer 2019, it was clear it wouldn’t come anywhere close to that number. One estimate was that only 600,000 fish eventually made it to spawning grounds.

“At the onset of the season in early March, we were looking at projected numbers and it looked quite positive for our area,” Werk, who owns Great River Fishing Adventures, an Indigenous fishing company. “The likelihood was for some pinks (fishery openings), a remote chance with sockeye, and maybe even with chinook, and then coho and chum on the tail-end of that.

“The Big Bar slide, of course, curtailed virtually all of those opportunities. And that is terrible for our local economy,” Werk commented.

Of course visitors will still come to the region to fish for sturgeon.

“But with the dwindling number of salmon stocks, if we have no salmon, it will eventually mean no sturgeon, and what will that do to the tourism and visitor numbers?” he said.

Sportfishing is a huge economic driver in the region and in Chilliwack in particular.

“Chilliwack’s number one tourism product is sportfishing,” Werk said. “It attracts people from all over the world, and it’s great for our economy.”

That economic engine will suffer greatly if the emphasis by DFO is not placed on rebuilding and protecting salmon stocks, as well as habitat protection. Werk would also like to see a long-term strategy to conserve wild salmon.

Sockeye are very important to First Nations for food, social and ceremonial fisheries. Those FSC fisheries were curtailed and ended up at an all-time low.

“So this is a wakeup call,” Werk said, adding that the rest of the blockage still needs to be removed at Big Bar.

“Let’s find a way to let those 2020 salmon migrate through so we have wild salmon for future generations.”

DFO officials are cognizant of the crucial importance of salmon to the province, as they prepare for the 2020 season by pursuing and planning operations to support salmon migration, if need be.

“The health of Pacific salmon is a central priority for DFO in B.C., and we will continue to work with our Indigenous and community partners to protect this critically important species,” said Leri Davies, spokesperson for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Sustained efforts will be needed both in the short and long-term to reduce the impact of the Big Bar landslide on future salmon stocks, and they will be working closely with partners on this as well, Davies said.

“The next phase of the Big Bar Landslide response is well underway to address the slide, which remains a barrier to fish passage with a rise in water levels,” the DFO rep said.

DFO is in the process now of finalizing results of fish migration, spawning and mortality levels due the landslide, which will come from extensive data review, statistical bias testing and salmon sampling data from spawning grounds.

A tender went out Nov. 27 from DFO to gather input from industry and First Nations to determine available solutions, as well as interest and marketplace potential for the construction and environmental remediation services needed to re-establish natural fish passage on the Fraser River.‎

“The intention is to ensure that construction activities begin as soon as possible, and while water levels in the Fraser River are low,” Davies concluded.

READ MORE: Natural fish passage the goal at Big Bar


@CHWKjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The Fraser River at Island 22 Regional Park. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Just Posted

Campbell River fire crews had a busy day on Nov. 28, 2020. Photo by Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror.
Campbell River fire crews kept busy on Saturday

Medical, vehicle and fire calls kept crews moving all day

Shawn Decaire does a blessing ceremony for the Hama?Elas Community Kitchen in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Community Kitchen blessed by Laichwiltach First Nation

Hama?Elas Community Kitchen will provide safe place to eat for Campbell River’s vulnerable

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement forecasting windy weather Sunday and Monday. (News Bulletin file photo)
More windy weather on the way for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada issues special weather statement for Victoria, east coast of Island, north Island

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash in Comox Valley waters Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Most Read