Archived - Government Response to the 6th Report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans - The 2001 Fraser River Salmon Fishery

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Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that DFO return to a single commercial fishery for all Canadians, in which all participants in a particular fishery would be subject to the same rules and regulations.  Consequently DFO should bring to an end the pilot sales projects and convert current opportunities under the pilot sales program into comparable opportunities in the regular commercial fishery. 

Government Response

The Government does not agree with this recommendation.  There are five commercial gear categories that normally harvest Fraser River sockeye in southern BC, in addition to pilot sale fisheries.  They operate at various times, in various areas, and different regulations and licence conditions related to gear and harvest practices apply to each fishery.  The Fisheries Act allows for separate and distinct fisheries with different applicable regulatory provisions and licence conditions.

 The pilot sales program has provided guidance on the design and conduct of Aboriginal in-river commercial fisheries in advance of implementation in treaties and has assisted in building First Nations' fisheries management capacity.  It has also reduced conflict with First Nations' communities over illegal sales of fish taken in food, social and ceremonial fisheries, and improved economic benefits to First Nations who faced poor economic outlooks.  Finally, the program has improved the management of First Nations fisheries, including catch monitoring.

The integration of the pilot sale fishery into the commercial fishery is not acceptable to affected First Nations.  They want to maintain a small boat commercial fishery in areas close to their communities.  They view this as a traditional fishery and claim it as an Aboriginal right.  Moreover, Aboriginal fishers could not operate safely with their small vessels next to the much larger vessels of the Area E fleet. 

Following the decision in the Kapp case, which has been appealed, agreements for 2003 fisheries on the Somass River were terminated in accordance with those agreements.  For the lower Fraser River, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) did not enter into any pilot sale agreements for 2003.  The Department is committed to providing continued opportunities to First Nations.  There are ongoing discussions with First Nations on arrangements to provide for future commercial salmon fishing opportunities corresponding to the terminated pilot sale fishing opportunities. 

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the government ensure that DFO respects the “public right to fish,” and that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans reassert his authority to manage the fishery.

Government Response

It is the Government's view that the common law public right to fish may be limited or abrogated by competent legislation.  In British Columbia, as elsewhere in Canada, virtually all commercial and recreational fisheries are regulated and restricted by federal legislation and in particular the Fisheries Act and its various regulations.

The Minister maintains his full authority to manage the fishery and has always been very clear on this point.

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that as long as pilot sales agreements continue, food and sale fisheries on the Fraser River and elsewhere on the coast of British Columbia be kept completely separate; and

That equal priority of access to the resource be provided to all commercial fisheries whether public or AFS pilot sales fisheries and that all measures required for conservation purposes be applied equally to both fisheries.

Government Response

Following the Kapp decision, DFO gave notice of early termination for existing pilot sale agreements for 2003 in accordance with those agreements, and discontinued negotiations on other pilot sale fisheries.  The decision in the Kapp case has been appealed, but it will likely take more than a year to conclude the process.  DFO is working with First Nations to develop an alternative approach that provides for their participation in commercial salmon fisheries.  Consideration will be given to separating any further commercial fisheries from FSC fisheries.

The Department agrees that, if continued, the pilot sales fishery should have equal priority with other commercial fisheries.  In 1999, DFO Pacific Region launched an important policy initiative called “New Directions”.  A paper entitled An Allocation Policy for Pacific Salmon sets out an allocation framework for conservation and harvest regimes.  In accordance with the policy, commercial pilot sales fisheries are accorded the same priority as other commercial salmon harvest. 

Following the 2001 fishing season, DFO introduced additional measures related to the conduct of fisheries in the lower Fraser River.  For example, fishery openings have been announced only when there is sufficient allowable catch to provide for both a pilot sale fishery and a commercial Area E gill net fishery.  As well, announcements for both were made simultaneously.  The intent of these arrangements was equal treatment between the Area E fleet and the pilot sales fishery in the lower Fraser River.  

It should also be noted that there are more stringent landing requirements for the Aboriginal pilot sales fisheries than for the commercial salmon fishery.  The commercial salmon fishery requires improvement in catch monitoring to bring it up to the level of commercial fisheries for other species.  DFO is developing a catch monitoring policy paper which will address some of the concerns and provide a consistent, high standard of catch monitoring. 

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that DFO establish realistic Aboriginal food fisheries and that the Department follow through on the commitment of the previous Minister to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to ensure that food fishery access is not abused.

Government Response

DFO implemented the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy to facilitate the management of fisheries in a manner that is consistent with the 1990 Supreme Court of Canada Sparrow decision.  The development of annual salmon harvest targets for First Nations is complex and there is no prescriptive formula.  DFO provides food, social and ceremonial access to Aboriginal groups.  In order to accomplish this task, DFO enters into negotiations with Aboriginal groups to set appropriate catch levels for food, social and ceremonial harvest.

Through the use of harvest planning and monitoring committees composed of representatives from DFO and First Nations, fishery plans are developed that will provide for fisheries to harvest the negotiated catch targets.  In general, DFO believes that these fisheries for food, social and ceremonial purposes are well managed and monitored in accordance with the Fisheries Act.  No fishery is without compliance issues.  Where problems are identified, DFO initiates actions to provide proper control and monitoring of the fisheries.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that funding be restored to DFO at levels adequate to the tasks of restoring science and enforcement programs critical to the conservation of the resource, habitat protection, enhancement and recruitment of professional fisheries managers and prosecution of commercial and recreational fisheries.

Government Response

The Government recognizes the importance of science and enforcement in supporting conservation and fisheries management.  It has limited funding and must set priorities to achieve these objectives and operate within its allocated budget.  To ensure that it is providing effective and efficient service for Canadians, the Department is reviewing budget allocations and programs on a department-wide basis to ensure that resources are allocated to the highest priority activities and that they are managed effectively. 

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends:

That DFO fund and support activities of more fishery officers;

That any person who has been convicted of a fisheries violation, not be designated as a guardian;

That DFO provide resources for guardians to complete all phases of their training;

That the monitoring and enforcement component be separated out of the AFS agreements and that the guardian program be funded directly to ensure stability of the program and to provide autonomy to Aboriginal fishery officers and guardians; and

That, to provide greater independence for Aboriginal fishery officers and guardians, they, together with DFO fishery officers, be responsible to the head of DFO enforcement.

Government Response

The Government recognizes the critical importance of enforcement in supporting conservation and fisheries management.  DFO must set priorities to achieve these objectives.  As noted above, the Department is reviewing budget allocations to ensure that funds are allocated to the highest priority activities and that funds are spent effectively.  However, public demands for increased funding are numerous and they cannot all be met. 

DFO has a system in place to screen out any Guardian candidate with a fishery violation.  All designations are scrutinized on an individual basis.  DFO does not designate any individual where the criminal history of the person, including violations of the Fisheries Act, is felt to compromise his or her ability to function effectively as a Fishery Guardian. 

DFO has not been recruiting additional Aboriginal fishery guardians in the Pacific Region and existing guardians will not, in the future, be engaged in enforcement work.  Responsibility for fisheries enforcement rests with DFO and is undertaken by fishery officers in the Conservation and Protection Branch.  The Department has been recruiting Aboriginal fishery officers, with equivalent qualifications and training as regular fishery officers, who will be playing an enforcement role in Aboriginal fisheries.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that DFO consider more flexible approaches to the management of fisheries along the lines proposed by the Area E Gillnetters Association.

Government Response

The Government agrees on the importance of having flexible approaches to the management of fisheries.  Recommendation 13 in the Review of the 2002 Fraser River Sockeye Fishery, which was unanimously supported by First Nations and stakeholders, called for the adoption of “innovative means to conduct sustainable fisheries that are consistent with conservation objectives.” This has been adopted by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and is being implemented.

DFO has sought to provide more flexible approaches to the management of fisheries and has worked with the various commercial fleet segments on the development and implementation of new measures:

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that DFO provide more stable access to the resource for the commercial and recreational fisheries.

Government Response

The Government supports the objective of stable access to the resource for commercial and recreational fisheries, subject to meeting conservation requirements and providing access to First Nations for food, social and ceremonial purposes and any rights that may be defined by treaty.  The Department is working toward this objective, but it is both difficult and contentious, particularly when abundance of salmon stocks is low.

The issue of access to Pacific salmon has been the subject of intense debate for many years and a series of independent studies on various aspects has been undertaken.   The Pacific Region's 1999 Allocation Policy For Pacific Salmon sets out a long-term allocation framework.  It states that conservation of Pacific salmon is the primary objective and will take precedence in managing the resource.  After conservation requirements are met, the policy sets out a reasonable, balanced approach to harvest allocations.  It provides for the priority of First Nations' food, social, and ceremonial requirements and any rights that may be defined by treaties.  It also sets out a clear policy on allocation between the fishing sectors, and within the commercial sector.  When there is extremely low abundance and when conservation of stocks is at risk, as occurred with Fraser River sockeye in 2001, stable access to fishing opportunities cannot be provided. 

In accordance with the recommendations of the Review of the 2002 Fraser River Sockeye Fishery, consultations took place with First Nations and other stakeholders regarding plans for 2003 and in-season sockeye communications working groups have been formed.  The External Steering Committee of the 2002 review reflected the consensus views of First Nations, commercial and recreational harvesting sectors, environmental organizations, the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, and the Province of BC.  The 2003 Integrated Fisheries Management Plan sets out the rules to guide fishery decisions. The goal of the plan is to provide more flexible and secure access to the resource by the commercial and recreational sectors subject to meeting conservation objectives and providing access to First Nations for food, social and ceremonial purposes and any right that may be defined by Treaty. 

On July 29, 2003, DFO and the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Fisheries announced a joint task group that will provide independent advice on approaches to ensure an integrated and economically viable marine fisheries sector in BC consistent with agreements on Aboriginal land claims.  This will assist governments in working with both First Nations and other participants to implement comprehensive solutions to the challenges faced in developing a post-treaty fishery.  The task group will report its finding by December 31, 2003.

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that DFO invest in more research to improve the run forecast system, including the test fishing system; and

That DFO give high priority to research to determine the reason for the earlier than normal return of the late run sockeye.

Government Response

DFO is working to improve run size estimates through a variety of means and is continuing scientific research related to late run Fraser River sockeye.

Recommendation 10 of the Review of 2002 Fraser River Sockeye Fishery similarly called for improvements in in-season estimates of run size and timing through improvements to test fishing, amongst other things.  This received consensus support from First Nations and other stakeholders, and is now being implemented.  A workshop was held in late April 2003 to discuss opportunities to improve in-season run size estimates, which included participation from First Nations, recreational and commercial harvesters, and DFO staff.  Four proposals arising from that process were incorporated into the Pacific Salmon Commission data gathering program for 2003:

Recommendation 9 of the Review of 2002 Fraser River Sockeye Fisheries sought improved understanding of the migration behaviour and in-river mortality among Late run sockeye.  This also received consensus support from First Nations and other stakeholders, and is being implemented. Studies on the migration behaviour and in-river mortality were conducted in 2003 in conjunction with the Pacific Salmon Commission and university partners.  Late run Fraser sockeye research activities in 2003 continued and built on work done in 2002. These studies are improving our knowledge of the cause, or causes, of mortality, the schedule of mortality level across the various timing strata (early, mid, and end) of the Late run stocks, and they are providing information that can be used to explore management options to protect Late run stocks while harvesting healthy stocks.

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans make a report to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on an annual basis on the progress made in dealing with the issues and problems raised concerning the Fraser River salmon fishery, and that the report also be tabled in Parliament.

Government Response

DFO implements 175 fishing plans each year.  Furthermore, the Fraser River salmon fishery is managed under the Canada-U.S. Pacific Salmon Treaty, and is only one of many components of the west coast salmon fisheries.  DFO undertakes an annual post-season review of this fishery, which includes meetings with stakeholders and interested parties.  It would therefore be inappropriate to select this fishery only for a report to Parliament.

In the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) for Pacific Salmon in Southern BC, DFO provides extensive information on fish stocks, fisheries management issues, related policies, new developments, enforcement, and a post-season review of the fishery.  In developing the IFMP, post-season consultations are held with First Nations and stakeholders during the fall concerning conservation, the conduct of fisheries and enforcement.  A public news release on the post-season review is issued, usually at the end of the year.  As well, the final IFMP document includes a post-season review section that describes the conduct of the fishery in the context of all the objectives that were identified the previous year.  These documents are publicly available and DFO cooperates with SCOFO in providing the reports and specific responses as requested.