A new research paper published by the Society for Conservation Biology suggests that fishing less salmon is the only way to ensure that all wildlife on the west coast can survive.
But here on the North Coast, that has fishermen of all ilk wondering: how much less is less until there’s no fishing at all?
Published in Conservation Letters, one of the peer-reviewed journals of the Society, the title of the paper is “Salmon for terrestrial protected areas,” and discusses salmon management on the west coast — specifically in B.C. and Alaska. One of the resolutions put forth in the paper is that various fisheries should shift to harvesting in which fisheries take smaller catches of known runs closer to shore.
“Although more than a hundred wildlife species — like grizzly bears, wolves, and eagles — depend on salmon, fisheries often capture more salmon than all of these animals combined, even from runs bound for protected areas that were created to safeguard these wildlife,” states Dr. Chris Darimont, science director for B.C.-based Raincoast Conservation Foundation, in a press release. Darimont is one of 10 authors who contributed to the paper.
The study was conducted by scientists in B.C., Washington State, and at the University of California. But the basis of their study has local fishermen scratching their heads, since “less fishing” has become an annual term over the past decade, especially with commercial fishermen who have seen less frequent openings with less time allotted to do so.
Joy Thorkelson, president of the UFAWU-CAW, just shakes her head when it comes to studies that are done on the North, especially when those in question live thousands of miles away. Besides, it’s pretty obvious to anyone that yes, when it comes to fishing, humans catch more fish than grizzly bears, eagles and orcas combined, something the journal article appears to stress out loud.
“My reaction is that people who make the kind of statements such as commercial fishing takes more fish than grizzlies, killer whales, otters, sea lions, etc., yeah well, that’s probably absolutely correct,” she said. “But two years ago, there was six million pink salmon returning to Area 6 and 7, and it was the largest run recorded. And in the same year, people like these so-called scientists said that there wasn’t enough fish for bears, because bears don’t eat pink salmon.
“And anybody who’s been down at any kind of stream on the North Coast knows that bears eat pink salmon.”
For years, Canada has been trying to monitor fisheries on the west coast, and allocations have been in place for some time. True, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans still has a lot to work to do, considering everyone seemed caught off-guard by the record amount of sockeye racing up the Fraser River this past summer. It appears to be somewhat of an inexact science, so Thorkelson would love to know how the paper’s authors think they have it all figured out.
Besides, commercial fishermen are already fishing closer to shore. “To say that in years of high abundance that we should fish close to shore, and make sure there’s enough escapement for killer whales and wolves, well, that’s normally where we fish,” said Thorkelson. “If they think we fish miles off-shore, they should give their heads a shake.”
The same thought process is shared with the sports fishing industry here in town. This past season, for example, started off rather slow before picking up in the summer, according to Rodney Proskiw, who owns Fishin’ Rod’s Charters.
“It was a tougher year than most,” he said. “We were down in bookings, especially at first, but it picked up.”
But in addition to the business side of things, charter companies were noticing a difference in the fish anyways.
“It was a different and strange year,” he said. “We were finding fish in strange places, and the migration times were different. Normally it’s really easy.”
He also pointed out that certain trends in the Pacific Ocean could just as easily affect the cycle for salmon. The North Coast, for example, enjoyed a very mild winter during 2009-10, which meant the river tributaries were very low come spring, and that may have affected the migration of the salmon.
“The rivers weren’t ready for fish to migrate,” he said. “And when they finally did, they just blasted.”
The peer-reviewed paper also comments directly in regards to pink and chum, which also surprises Thorkelson. After all, in even years, such as 2010, local fishermen don’t fish pink.
“This year, the runs were lower, and that’s normal because our runs to the North Coast mainland are large in odd years, and smaller in even years,” said Thorkelson.
Proskiw added the sports fishermen usually let pink go, and yet, even though 2010 wasn’t a “pink” year per se, personally, he still noticed a high number of pink heading up the streams and rivers on the North Coast.
“The bulk mass is very strong,” he said. “There’s no shortage of those going up the river.”
The paper acknowledges that its suggestions may be “radical” to decision-makers. Nevertheless, the peer-reviewed paper referred to the current fishing practices on the west coast as “exploitative,” and that those practices did not account for the needs of wildlife and ecosystems.
“The question arises whether a protected area is truly protected when its foundation species, in this case Pacific salmon, are not safeguarded and are subject to such high levels of exploitation,” states Dr. Chris Wilmers, assistant professor at the University of California, and a co-author of the study, in .
But Thorkelson is rather blunt when she suggests that it’s the study itself that comes off sounding rather exploitative.
“It’s nothing but propaganda,” she said. “I think these are the same people who say that wolves only eat the heads of chum salmon, so if that’s the case, I’ve often facetiously said that if they leave the rest of the chum salmon all over the place, let’s just head our fish, and carefully take tubs of the heads to shore to allow the wolves to feast.
“That’s how ridiculous people like this are.”
In essence, it’s ridiculous, because all fishermen have allotments in place. Proskiw can’t understand how that is affecting, if anything, the surrounding wildlife in the area.
“The limits are in place are more than ample,” he said. “The limits are set in two ways — per angler per day, and a total allowable catch. The little dent we put in, it’s nothing.
“To cut it back, it makes no sense.”
~Written by Patrick Witwicki