Commercial salmon fisheries delayed for Bella Coola area

DFO notice says Area C gill net fisheries in Area 8 have been delayed until June 15

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has announced that the first two anticipated Area C gill net fisheries in Area 8 have been delayed due to coastal communities concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the notice the DFO acknowledges that “due to health and safety concerns raised by remote coastal communities over the COVID-19 Pandemic, Area C gill net fisheries have been delayed. The earliest potential opening date for this fishery is June 15, 2020. An update will be provided via fishery notice by June 5, 2020.”

In a Facebook post the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union confirmed the closure to their members.

“The Bella Coola Chinook fishery is postponed. Bella Coola has been declared off-limits to non-residents due to safety precautions regarding COVID-19,” said the post. “The Union acknowledges the Nuxalk decision to quarantine their community and we are attempting to get an agreement on a plan that will allow a commercial gillnet fishery to proceed while staying away from Bella Coola and its marine infrastructure. We will keep you posted.”

Nuxalk leadership has expressed serious concerns with the opening of the recreational fishery. In a letter dated April 2, 2020, hereditary and elected leadership requested the DFO close the recreational fishery in Areas 7 and 8.

“Last year we had thousands of recreational fishers in our coastal waters and our community,” the letter states. “Our singular priority is to make sure our communities remain safe. The recreational fishers will be inconvenienced and disappointed, but recreational fishing is non-essential.”

So far, that request has been ignored.

In response to the commercial fishery delay, the DFO said “Representatives from the fishing industry are in communication with coastal communities to address concerns and develop fishery protocols to address considerations for the health and safety of fishers and community members that reflect Provincial Health Guidelines.”

Further up the coast poor stocks have resulted in widespread closures in both commercial and recreational fisheries.

The DFO has announced widespread closures to recreational salmon fishing affecting all fresh water areas of the North Coast. The notice, effective May 27, includes a ban on chinook in all lakes and rivers flowing into management areas 3 to 6. The announcement expands on a May 19 notice prohibiting chinook retention throughout the Skeena Watershed.

In an email to Black Press Media a DFO spokesperson said the restrictions are in response to a Skeena Chinook return estimate of just 38,754. It was noted there will be no targeted commercial fisheries on Skeena Chinook this year, and that the final Area F Commercial troll fishery will be timed to avoid the species.

READ MORE: COVID-19 guidelines for recreational fishing expected this week

“Overall, expectations for salmon returns are generally low and similar to last year,” the spokesperson wrote. “A key factor is the relatively poor conditions for ocean survival for the sea entry and freshwater rearing years for salmon returning in 2020.”

The notice also reduces the allowable catch of North Coast coho to two, excluding the Kitimat River.

Bans on all salmon species are also now in effect until further notice for sections of the Skeena mainstem near the Kitwanga and Kispiox Rivers. Future prohibitions are planned for July 1 to Aug. 31 near and within the Kitsumkalum River.

Recreational fishing for chum salmon remains closed throughout the Skeena and Nass River watersheds.

A draft of the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan forewarned low Chinook returns will call for conservation measures similar to 2018, which saw widespread closures on all species.

READ MORE: Eight Northwest salmon conservation projects receive funding for grassroots work

The DFO spokesperson blamed the low numbers primarily on environmental factors, adding that while fisheries plans will be adjusted throughout the season to account for actual returns, further closures are a possibility.

“Given the anticipated ongoing impacts of the extremely warm water temperatures in the central North East Pacific ocean starting in late 2013 and the resulting changes in the marine food web – zooplankton composition, density, and distribution, as well as the potential for drought conditions through the summer and fall (leading to lower than normal flows and higher than normal water temperatures), there will likely be requirements for additional management actions to ensure adequate numbers of certain stocks have the opportunity to migrate up-river and spawn.”

More to come.

With files from Quinn Bender

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