The federal government announced on Tuesday significant measures to shut down a number of Pacific commercial fisheries and First Nations communal commercial fisheries as the salmon stock has “reached a crisis.”
Seventy-nine out of 138 unique commercial fisheries in B.C. and the Yukon will have to close as a result of the decline in salmon, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan announced.
“No fishing minister wants to be the person to close down a fishery,” Jordan told iPolitics. “It was definitely a difficult decision.”
Up until the mid 1990s, the yearly catch for Pacific salmon was about 24 million. The amount has declined to about two million per year.
Declines in Pacific salmon include five species in particular: pink, chum, sockeye, Coho and chinook.
During a technical briefing on Tuesday, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officials pointed to climate change as one reason for why there’s been such a rapid decline in the Pacific salmon stock.
“Currently, the ocean is absorbing 90 per cent of the earth’s excess heat,” officials said.
B.C. temperatures are also rising, which increases river temperatures that make it too warm for salmon in the summer months. Increasing drought leaves eggs and young salmon stranded in the rivers, and forest fires pollute the waters where salmon spawn or run. Habitat degradation, where the natural habitat can no longer support the salmon, and harvesting have also significantly contributed to the depleted stock.
“We have to do everything we can to preserve and protect (the salmon) we are seeing declines in runs like we have never seen before… we are on the verge of collapse (with declining fish), so we needed to take bold action,” Jordan said.
Jordan said her department has been working for years with the Pacific salmon fisheries to determine how best to save the industry.
“This is one part of an overarching strategy,” Jordan said. “There is going to be a lot more coming in the future with regards to how we develop our Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative investment (PSSI). We put $647 million in the budget to address this, and it is time to take some bold action.”
The PSSI is a long-term strategy to save the Pacific salmon.
Following the announcement to shut down more than half of the Pacific salmon fishery on Tuesday, DFO officials began consultations with those fisheries affected by the closure to buy out their licenses and to encourage Indigenous harvesters to use more selective fishing gear or accept a license for non-salmon species.