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. 

2017 North Coast Fishing Plan 

Less than 600,000 sockeye were expected to return to the Skeena in 2017 (which is 300,000 short of the 900,000 escapement goal).  This combined with low Chinook returns made for a very difficult season. All sockeye (including food fish) and commercial and recreation Chinook fisheries were closed until well into the summer, when higher than expected sockeye returns triggered First Nations food and then recreational fisheries. The total sockeye return ended up being approximately 870,000, which is just shy of the spawning target. 

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.

Pacific Salmon Commission

SkeenaWild has a seat on the Northern Panel of the PSC, and are currently renegotiating the Northern BC / Southeast Alaska portion of the treaty. Outcomes include: actions to protect the low Skeena sockeye run this past season, active in season management correspondence with DFO, and Coho interception research. SkeenaWild presented new treaty language that is focused on reducing impacts in years of low returns of Nass and Skeena sockeye. A deal must be in place prior to the 2018 fishing season.