Pacific salmon stocks have been declining for decades due to a complex combination factors, such as:
- climate change
- habitat degradation
- impacts of land and water use
- acute events like toxic spills and landslides
- harvest pressure from fisheries
Despite extensive conservation measures and fishery restrictions, in many cases the declines have continued. We are making bold changes in a number of areas, including to the way we manage salmon fisheries, to both improve the outlook for rebuilding Pacific salmon and improve the predictability of salmon stocks for the people and communities that depend on them for social, economic and cultural purposes.
Informed by a comprehensive engagement and consultation process with First Nations and stakeholders including commercial and recreational fishing sectors, we are working to rebuild Pacific salmon stocks and modernize fishery management systems.
Guided by the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI), fisheries management adjustments vary by harvest sector, but all changes are founded on the key objectives of:
- embracing more precautionary and selective fishing approaches, including exploration of mark selective fisheries
- developing new tools to better manage harvest capacity
- updating the Salmon Allocation Policy
- updating licensing, regulatory and management frameworks
- improving the timeliness and accuracy of fishery monitoring and catch reporting programs
Harvest transformation initiatives
Harvest transformation initiatives for First Nations, commercial, and recreational fisheries are described in more detail below.
First Nations salmon fisheries
After conservation, we have a legal obligation to provide priority access for First Nations food, social and ceremonial (FSC), Treaty and rights-based fisheries. Unfortunately, in recent years some First Nations communities across British Columbia and Yukon have not been able to fish their harvest allocations because of low salmon returns.
Under PSSI, we are engaging and consulting with First Nations to explore new ways to provide fishing opportunities that address First Nation legal and constitutional fishing priorities. We are focusing on the following key areas.
Transitioning to selective harvesting methods for FSC
- identifying where FSC fisheries may impact stocks of conservation concern
- investigating selective fishing options
- providing capacity to First Nation communities to transition to more selective fishing methods where necessary
Investigating new, innovative and/or terminal fishing approaches
- exploring where terminal fishing approaches may be able to provide enhanced FSC fishing opportunities, including fishing opportunities to access harvestable surpluses in terminal areas, like Excess to Salmon Spawning Requirement (ESSR)
Improving management approaches
We are reviewing and seeking improvements to:
- operational management approaches
- fishery monitoring and catch reporting
- co-governance models for managing fisheries
Pacific Salmon Indigenous Communal Commercial Alternation Program
Many First Nations in British Columbia and Yukon hold communal commercial salmon licenses, providing them commercial access to salmon fisheries. Through engagement with them, we are exploring ways to address the impacts of declining salmon returns on First Nations economic fisheries. The voluntary Pacific Salmon Indigenous Communal Commercial Alternation Program allows Category F and N Indigenous communal commercial salmon licence eligibility holders to alternate their licence in return for financial support to transition to non-salmon commercial fisheries access.
Our goal is to work collaboratively with First Nations to understand the interests of their communities and find solutions that offer continued economic benefits while reducing threats to salmon stocks of concern.
Commercial salmon fisheries
Through the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative, we are building more selective, resilient and economically viable fishing opportunities by:
- learning from the past
- developing new tools
- collaborating with the commercial fishing industry
Targeted measures for transforming the management of commercial fisheries includes the following.
Commercial fishery closures
A key feature of our fisheries management approach is to embrace a more precautionary and selective approach to fishing to reduce fishery impacts on stocks of concern. Long-term commercial harvest closures further support the actions taken in the 2021 fishing season and are necessary in some areas where there are significant conservation concerns for salmon stocks.
After consultation with stakeholders, 22 longer-term closures were identified beginning in the 2022 season. These closures are expected to remain in place until there are clear signs that salmon populations are rebuilding. This is expected to take a minimum of 5 to 10 years, that is 1 to 2 salmon generations.
Pacific Salmon Commercial Licence Retirement Program
The Pacific Salmon Commercial Licence Retirement Program is a voluntary program that allows commercial salmon licence eligibility holders to permanently retire their licence eligibilities. This program supports a transition to a smaller commercial harvesting sector that is better aligned with the scope of future fishing opportunity and more economically viable. All commercial salmon licence eligibility holders have an opportunity to participate in this program as long as they own a vessel that holds 1 or more salmon seine, gill net or troll licenses in a valid or renewal status.
This licence retirement program is supported by a derelict vessel and gear disposal program designed to dispose of vessels and gear that may longer be needed once a licence has been retired.
Modernizing management frameworks
Along with transitioning to a more precautionary, selective fishing approach and reduced fleet size, through the PSSI, we are also exploring ways to better manage the commercial fishing fleet. Through consultation, we are:
- exploring additional improvements such as investigating the merits of expanding the use of share-based management systems
- reviewing and updating the regulatory and licensing framework where necessary
- improving the transparency of information on commercial salmon harvests, access and allocations
- improving monitoring and assessment programs to better understand the impacts of catch and by-catch
Recreational salmon fisheries
The recreational salmon fishery operates throughout B.C. and Yukon. Though catch and effort varies by geographic area, the recreational fishery can have an impact on salmon stocks of conservation concern. Over the past several years, numerous new restrictions on recreational fisheries have been introduced to protect these stocks. Additional restrictions may be required to ensure that they have an opportunity to rebuild.
Through the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative, we are working with recreational salmon harvesters to modernize fishery management approaches in the following ways.
Improving licensing and regulatory approaches
We are reviewing the current regulatory framework with a view to:
- examine where licensing changes may improve management
- introduce new tools that help to better regulate/adjust gear, make in-season fishing changes and provide enhanced catch reporting
Improving fishery monitoring and catch reporting
We are examining current fishery monitoring programs and making changes or enhancements to:
- improve the accuracy and timeliness of catch reporting and on-grounds inspections
- broaden the geographic coverage of existing programs
Improving the information base for managing the fishery
We are introducing new stock assessment and fishery impact surveys to provide better information to base future decisions on.
- Pacific Salmon Commercial Licence Retirement Program
- Pacific Salmon Communal Commercial Alternation Program
- Derelict Vessel Mitigation and Gear Disposal Program
- Pacific salmon integrated fisheries management plans
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