Diverting attention from the real problems salmon face: letter


The Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI) is shameful and misses its intended mark.

Thrown together in a knee-jerk response to a specific subset of declining salmon populations, the PSSI’s sweeping closures conveniently portray commercial fisheries as the problem — passing the buck by scapegoating harvesters while the real problems lay unattended to.

The closure of a substantial portion of regular commercial fisheries was announced immediately prior to the 2021 salmon season, under the false pretenses of conservation. While catching less fish may mean more fish to the spawning grounds, the problem isn’t that simple.

There are discrete fish populations returning to spawn in B.C., and commercial fisheries only target populations that have a surplus available in excess of spawning and conservation requirements for that particular year.

Furthermore, this only occurs once First Nations Food, Social and Ceremonial fisheries are allowed to harvest and almost invariably after approximately 330,000 sport licenses have been issued for B.C. waters.

Commercial harvest closures do nothing to address the severe impact of climate change on salmon, fish farms along wild salmon migration routes, industrial pollution in rivers, or habitat destruction.

Predation of salmon by the uncontrolled and booming numbers of both domestic and invasive species of pinnipeds has also been identified by DFO as a key factor in the decline of salmon populations.

Control of pinniped populations has been projected by the scientific community to be 400 per cent more effective in recovering salmon stocks of concern than commercial closures.

Abundance-based commercial fisheries are a critical part of the management plan. If there is no abundance to fish, commercial fisheries don’t open. The strategy of last-minute politically-driven closures adopted this year came as a shock even to DFO’s own fish managers.

These broad, baseless closures were forced upon harvesters in the final stages of preparation for the season — after they had spent thousands on pre-season prepration.

So, how can all this be justified? The short answer is that it can’t.

These closures will do nothing to increase conservation compared to abundance-based management; it was purely a political stunt with language catered to garner public support.

Falling completely short of any meaningful action, a voluntary license buy-back available to all salmon license holders has been pinned for 2022.

No mention of buying back useless gear or vessels once the license has been stripped, no mention of the crew who depend on these operations for their livelihood.

With plans to buy the licenses back at “current” market value after several years of devaluation directly resulting from the government’s own mismanagement of the critical factors of salmon declines coupled with earlier politically-driven closures, harvesters will clearly not be offered fair compensation for their investments.

Adding insult to injury, the buyback will be funded by the $647 million PSSI budget — money that should be put to work restoring salmon habitat and building hatcheries.

Compared to the contentious pipeline figure and $1 billion spent on tourism over three years, it’s a drop in the bucket.

Harvesters face a choice: become so diminished that the business becomes unviable, or immediate extinguishment with little to no compensation.

To think there will not be a human cost to this would be willful disregard on the government’s part.

They say “strategy initiative.” I say coercion.

Painting a picture for the people of Canada that commercial harvest closures will save our salmon is misleading and disgraceful.

The fishery closures only divert attention from the real problems salmon face.

If DFO and the federal government want to get serious about rebuilding salmon and a resilient harvest sector, they can start with a proper commitment to habitat restoration, hatchery production, pinniped management, and a labour force adjustment program all backed by a budget that’s robust enough to get the work done and address the real threats.

James Lawson,

UFAWU-Unifor President