Fisheries

View 2019 Season regulations here

2019 Pre-Season Forecasts

Sockeye: 1.7 million estimated to return to Skeena which is above what’s needed for spawning, but below the 2-2.5 million average. Both fresh water and marine fisheries are planned.

Chinook: 40,000 estimated to return to Skeena, which is below the historical average of 60-100k. Fresh water and marine recreational fisheries are planned for the Skeena and north coast. No commercial fisheries planned.

Coho: Expecting poor returns similar to last year. Fisheries are planned, but may need to be adjusted in-season depending on returns.

Pink: Expecting poor returns similar to last year. Fisheries are planned, but may need to be adjusted in-season depending on returns.

Chum: Expecting poor returns as this species has been depressed for sometime. Most fisheries are closed for chum retention and are in the rebuilding phase.

Steelhead: Difficult to predict pre-season and no estimates have been made. Last year saw a strong return of steelhead to the Skeena and Nass systems.

Moving forward, SkeenaWild will be pushing for abundance-based management plans to be developed for all species, starting with Chinook. This would clearly set out the levels (# of fish estimated to be returning) for which different fisheries can take place, and place a greater priority on conservation, which will help avoid last minute surprises. The only species we currently have an abundance based management plan for is sockeye, and it works very well at the aggregate (Skeena watershed) level.

Why are we seeing these poor returns?

Warm ocean conditions mean that less food is available for salmon to feed on. Zooplankton feed both salmon and the smaller fish that salmon eat – they are the basis for the entire food chain in the North Pacific. Warm ocean temperatures in the North Pacific between 2013-2016 meant less nutrients available and poor zooplankton productivity.  Ocean temperatures cooled in 2017-2018 which meant better conditions for salmon, however that warm water returned this past fall and maintained through the winter and spring, and will likely continue into the summer, which means poor conditions for salmon in the ocean.

In the fresh water, we saw unprecedented drought conditions this past summer and fall. This meant that adult salmon returning in the summer and fall faced difficult conditions and additional stress. The young salmon often got stranded and died in pools in the shallows on the edges of rivers. This drought continued into the spring and will likely continue into this summer. We’re currently experiencing about 56% of normal snowpack in our region. Predictions are that we will have a dry summer and without adequate rain, this low snowpack will result in below average water levels which will pose serious risk to salmon as they attempt to spawn.

What can we do?

Poor ocean and fresh water conditions mean that we all need to be more careful thoughtful in how we manage fish. This situation is likely not going to get better any time soon and climate change is here to stay, making these conditions more common. There are a number of things that you can to help this situation:

Educate yourself:

  • Stay updated on in-season returns by visiting Tyee Test fishery or using the SkeenaWild Fishing App.
  • Adapt and base your fishing plans on which species are doing well and which ones need to be left alone.
  • Watch and share videos like this one.

Get involved in local conservation efforts:

  • Donate to groups working on these issues
  • Show up to events

Use your Voice:

  • Share info and talk with your friends & neighbours.
  • Be a voice for salmon

These issues are becoming more and more important and we all need to step up if want to continue to be able to come out here and enjoy this resource with our friends and families. The future of this resource depends on all of us.

Here’s what we’re doing:

1. Working with our indigenous partners to rebuild weak wild sockeye populations.

2. Participating in the Pacific Salmon Commission to reduce Alaskan interception of our salmon.

3. Participating in the Integrated Harvest Planning Committee and provide a strong conservation voice in developing annual fishing plans.

4. Actively supporting selective fisheries that protect weak populations.

5. Working to protect critical salmon habitats in the watershed.

6. Working to improve science, monitoring and decision-making

 

DFO’s Wild Salmon Policy (WSP) Implementation Plan 

The WSP is a progressive federal plan to protect and restore salmon stocks on the West Coast of Canada. SkeenaWild has made the Skeena a priority watershed for implementation and has undertaken a great deal of work with the Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) and partners in implementing the policy over the past decade.

DFO has shown slow progress in recent years, but has renewed interest in implementing the policy. They are undertaking consultations to design a new WSP implementation plan. We have been working with partner organizations (Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Raincoast Conservation, and David Suzuki Foundation) to ensure DFO does not water down the policy. They were initially proposing to remove the implementations steps, or 6 key strategies, from the policy.

SkeenaWild worked with the Lake Babine First Nation Fisheries Department to actively engage in consultations involving the development of a draft implementation Wild Salmon Policy plan. This engagement has produced positive results in that the draft implementation plan specifically references Skeena benchmarks and status. SkeenaWild and First Nations have been urging DFO to accept interim Pacific Salmon Foundation benchmarks (minimum and optimum spawning levels) and status for several years. Having them incorporated in the draft implementation plan is significant progress. This will provide the basis for moving forward with the implementation of the WSP in the Skeena Watershed, and add further protections for weak stocks.

SkeenaWild’s salmon ecologist, Mike Price, initiated a partnership between SkeenaWild, Simon Fraser University, Raincoast and LGL in writing and are publishing a paper in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences on the lack of Wild Salmon Policy implementation. The paper was released in mid August and received major media attention. The report exposed the massive cutbacks to salmon counts in British Columbia since the 1980’s (from 1500 streams/rivers per year to less than 500 currently). This forced DFO to react, stating publicly that they will be allocating significant new funding for stock assessment work.

First Nations Support and Rebuilding

SkeenaWild has been supporting the Wet’suwet’en in implementing research aspects of their Morice sockeye recovery plan, characterizing the genetic structure of small populations (such as Atna Lake and Morice Lake-shore spawners), estimating the spawning escapement of sockeye from their tagging program independent of DFO, mentoring young fisheries biologists. We also developed a monitoring program for the collection of sockeye scales and genetic tissue for baseline characterization of populations and future conservation studies.