Submitter: Ken MacLeod
Date Submitted: June 23, 2010
The collapse of the 2009 Fraser River sockeye run can be blamed primarily on overfishing by foreign nations on the high seas. While sea lice from fish farms and disease may have also contributed, the high survival rates of pinks, which do not migrate as far out to sea as sockeye, indicate that overfishing in the Pacific was the main cause. Other problems affecting Fraser sockeye may include climate change, poor management by DFO and overfishing by First Nations.
Having previously worked with both the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission and DFO (1960s), I have had a strong interest in salmon stocks since the early 1960s and have documented and interviewed many fishermen and scientists for a book to be published later on an aural history of the West Coast salmon fishery. I have also previously worked in the salmon processing industry and have spent much time on a salmon troller and fishing recreationally. My uncle, who spent 30 years working for DFO, also documented much of the resource in the film documentaries that he produced and also during his management of the Big Qualicum River hatchery.
In consideration of all the facts and my own personal observations, I blame the collapse of the 2009 run on the over-fishing of these stocks by foreign nations on the high seas. Whether this fishing was done illegally or legally, it has decimated our stocks. How else can you explain that Alaska had an exceptional sockeye year and we did not.
Yes, there is the problem of sea lice from fish farms and the possibility of disease, but when consideration is given to the tremendous survival rates of pinks last year and also the high catches of sockeye by the Americans and possibly other nations, I lay the blame at the feet of the overfishing of our sockeye stocks by foreign fleets. I do not know a lot about present illegal drift net fishing outside our waters, but this could be part of the problem.
Sockeye are known to migrate further out to sea than pinks, and therein lies the problem.
I also question DFO calculations of stocks. I used to live in the Shuswap Lake region for many years and have followed quite closely the records of salmon stocks to the Adams and other streams that flow into Shuswap Lake. In 2006, I visited the Adams River the week before Thanksgiving and noticed what I would estimate less than 100,000 spawners in a year where up to four million spawners were predicted which obviously did not nearly materialize. The claim was that salmon were dying before reaching the spawning grounds partly because of warm water temperatures and possible disease.
While the above might be true, stocks of sockeye and chum have generally nosedived considerably since the mid-1980s partly because of our own over-fishing, but also, I maintain, because of overfishing on the open Pacific.
The sea lice is a valid problem, but not the main reason for the collapse of last year's sockeye population.
There are other problems affecting sockeye runs related to questionable management of stocks, and over-fishing by First Nations groups. I think this is part of the reason for the decline of the Barkley Sound sockeye stocks.