Save our Salmon!
In British Columbia, salmon fishery harvests five species of Pacific salmon (pink, chum, coho, Chinook, and sockeye) in the coast, adjacent open-ocean, and inland areas of the province. According to the FishSource 2013, from 2011 to 2012, British Columbia accounted for 1.47% of wild-capture Pacific salmon harvest. Pink salmon comprised 36.13% of the regional share, followed by chum at approximately 31.30%, sockeye at 17.40%, and coho salmon at 5.52%. Majority of salmon harvested in British Columbia is sold within the country, with exports to North America, Europe, and Asia, particularly in Japan.
There are three gear types that require commercial salmon licenses: purse seines, trolling lines, and gillnets. Terminal fisheries in rivers use additional gear such as weirs, fish wheels, beach seines, as well as dip nets. Commercial openings occur anywhere along coastal areas, depending on local run timing (May to October), distribution, and stock status.
In 2011, the BC fishery harvested around 9.7 million salmon, while 2.9 million salmon were harvested the following year. Several salmon products from British Columbia are exported to the global seafood market. Sockeye salmon are sold fresh, frozen, or as canned products. Pink salmon, on the other hand, is primarily sold as canned goods. Pink and chum salmon are often sold whole (headed and gutted) and flaked in frozen products that may be processed in China. Major consumers for fresh sockeye salmon include British Columbia, the United States, and Japan. In North America and Europe, supermarkets regularly stock canned pink and sockeye salmon.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified BC sockeye salmon in 2010, and pink salmon in 2011. Three units for chum salmon were certified in 2013, with a fourth unit currently under assessment. All of these certificates have open conditions, many of which are common to all certified BC salmon fisheries. Coho and Chinook salmon fisheries are yet to participate in the MSC program.
All five species of Pacific salmon have overlapping natural ranges that incidental fishing of non-target salmon often occur. Moreover, there are a number of conditions that are not met within the required timeframe by the original MSC assessment.
Salmon management and other related issues gained much attention in 2012, prompting widespread public debate and other concerns that called for proposals to weaken or alter fish habitat and water protection laws, highlighted by an open letter to the Prime Minister from four former Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans.
The omnibus Bill C-38 was subsequently passed, raising concerns about weakening Canada’s fish habitat, water, environmental assessment, endangered species, and other laws.
In October 2012, the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River (also known as the Cohen Commission) issued a final report. The Cohen Commission included 75 recommendations to improve the future sustainability of Fraser River and other salmon fisheries in British Columbia. The recommendations focused more on implementing Canada’s 2005 Wild Salmon Policy (WSP), and probes deeper into salmon aquaculture. However, despite continued pressure from the stakeholder, the management agency is yet to respond to the recommendations.
In summer of 2012, the Skeena River sockeye salmon returned in extremely low numbers, raising concern among conservationists for the future of one of British Columbia’s largest and most diverse salmon runs. This resulted in closures of commercial and recreational fisheries in the province, and restrictions were imposed on First Nations’ fisheries for food, social, and ceremonial purposes. This was the lowest spawning escapement on record, with the total return of the run below the conservation point of 400,000 fish.
The productivity of Fraser River sockeye salmon, which is the number of adults produced per spawner, has been in a constant decline since the mid-90s. It came to a point where Fraser River sockeye salmon are almost unable to replace themselves. 2009 was the year when the total return of Fraser River sockeye was at its lowest in over five decades.
The status of Fraser stocks for 2013 was not at crisis level as in 2009, but there was still no commercial harvest. The final numbers are still coming in, and we will soon update this report once more information becomes available to the public. Chinook salmon returned at crises levels, however, but with reports of good numbers on some individual rivers. On a more positive note, pink salmon runs in the North Coast and Fraser were abundant, with instances of strong coho returns.
Salmon, like any other seafood, is a healthy food choice. But as the number of people in the world continues to grow, the need for them will also increase. And as the demand increases, there is also the need to find ways to supplement the supply of wild-capture fish to relieve pressure on wild fish populations and to ensure fish does not become overfished or unaffordable.
British Columbia salmon farmers are in a unique position to help meet this growing market and they strive to bring benefit to the communities where they operate. At present, there are over fifteen resource development agreements and service contracts currently in place with BC Coastal First Nations, and First Nation peoples make up 20% of the workforce in the BC salmon farming industry.
You can help save our salmon by making submissions to the Cohen Commission.