Archived - Government Response to the 2nd Report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans entitled: Here We Go Again.Or the 2004 Fraser River Salmon Fishery, March 2005

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The Government of Canada thanks the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (SCOFO) for its report on the 2004 Fraser River Salmon Fishery released March 22, 2005. This review was undertaken in response to low levels of sockeye salmon reaching the spawning grounds of the Fraser River. There was widespread concern to determine the cause of this problem and to ensure that corrective measures are undertaken. The Government of Canada thoughtfully considered each recommendation and here provides a response.

SCOFO had requested a response within 60 days; i.e. by May 21, 2005, because of the need to prepare for the upcoming salmon fishing season. Tabling a substantive response to Parliament within 60 days, which is half the time permitted, was not possible given the complexity of the issues and the required approval process. However, recognizing the real need to address the concerns, in the spring, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced new measures that respond to some of the recommendations. These reforms are also reflected in the 2005 fishing plans.

The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has called for reforms to fisheries enforcement to address concerns over illegal fishing; improvements to science, stock assessment, and habitat assessment to improve the information base; and stricter controls over the fishery in response to warm water temperatures. These reflect the immediate concerns in 2004. Critically important, however, are fundamental concerns regarding the salmon fishery that must also be addressed to avoid the recurring nature of the problems, as referenced in the title of the report. These underlying problems include over-capitalization of the fishery, declining prices due to competition from aquaculture, uncertainty about catch shares, particularly First Nation access and allocation, a long history of conflict between First Nation and non-Aboriginal fishers, low levels of real shared decision-making, and collaboration among different interests and First Nations.

Of all fisheries on the BC coast, Fraser River salmon fisheries have been the most contentious. There are serious environmental problems that are threatening some salmon populations. Exceptionally high water temperatures and low water levels have occurred repeatedly in the Fraser River over the last decade. As well, the Late Run component of Fraser River sockeye has suffered critical levels of pre-spawning mortality. These have dramatically increased mortality rates.

In addition to resource issues for Fraser River salmon, there are also long-standing and serious problems between the harvesters. Uncertainty over allocation has resulted in an antagonistic and sometimes confrontational relationship between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, which has made resource management more complex and difficult. Providing stability and certainty of access is a key requirement to reforming Fraser River fisheries. All participants, including DFO, must work together to ensure conservation, sustainability of fisheries, and security of access. Nowhere else in British Columbia have the problems been so severe.

A comprehensive and lasting solution must respond both to the fundamental problems in the salmon fishery and the specific issues related to the Fraser River. They must address the resource conservation concerns and the fisheries conflicts.

On April 14, 2005 Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced a blueprint for fundamental reform of Pacific fisheries. It applies to all fisheries, but the initial focus is on Pacific salmon. The reforms will strengthen Departmental programs and thus should alleviate problems in the conduct of fisheries and avoid a recurrence of the circumstances that occurred in the 2004 fishery. The reforms propose a direction that is consistent with the spirit of the Committee's recommendations. This year is a transition year for the reforms with demonstration projects in the salmon fisheries and more permanent changes introduced in 2006.

The blueprint announced on April 14 focuses on four main themes:

  1. Sustaining strong salmon populations by setting clear conservation objectives for each fishery based on the principles of the Wild Salmon Policy (a new conservation policy for Pacific salmon);

    The Wild Salmon Policy provides a critical redirection of salmon management that recognizes the primacy of conservation and the application of the precautionary approach. Under the policy, salmon will be maintained by identifying and managing "Conservation Units" that reflect their geographic and genetic diversity. Conservation units are being defined for Fraser River sockeye, recovery plans developed for critically low salmon populations, and new escapement goals for Fraser River sockeye have been proposed. In the spring, the Minister intends to announce the finalized Wild Salmon Policy.
     
  2. Strengthening DFO programs that are critical to salmon conservation, such as habitat protection, enforcement, and the scientific assessment of stocks;

    The recommendations by SCOFO and the post-season review provide important guidance in this area related to the Fraser River.
     
  3. Making progress over time on increasing First Nations' access to economic fisheries in collaboration with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada;

    Allocation and access issues concerning Fraser River sockeye issues have been particularly contentious, and it is imperative that the Department work with First Nations and other stakeholders to address these concerns, to promote cooperation amongst harvesters and to support long-term stability and fairness.
     
  4. Improving the economic performance of fisheries so that they reach their full potential, provide certainty to participants and optimize harvest;

    The department will be working with all harvest groups to find ways to optimize harvest, consistent with the conservation framework of the Wild Salmon Policy and improve economic viability. This should help to alleviate some of the contentious allocation problems and the antagonistic relations that exist between the various Fraser River sockeye fisheries. It will provide greater certainty and stability in the fishery for all harvesters.

As part of this comprehensive approach, the Department will be implementing measures to address the specific issues related to the Fraser River. The Department will continue efforts to expand on future measures to address the concerns for Fraser salmon.

The Government's response to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans reflect the commitments by Minister Regan that have been made under Pacific Fisheries Reform. It is also based on the overall commitment of the Government of Canada to work with First Nations to create the conditions for long-term development while respecting historical rights and agreements. The Government of Canada is seeking to reach agreement with First Nations through Treaty and other arrangements with respect to fisheries and oceans management. Negotiations related to fish, fishing arrangements, fisheries management and other matters are under discussion with First Nations to set out the access to the fish resources to be provided to First Nations under treaty or through other arrangements. Canada's interests in these discussions include conservation of the resource, and certainty and stability in fisheries in British Columbia.

Once again, the Government wishes to thank SCOFO for its report. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Departmental officials look forward to answering questions the Committee may have related to this response and any other issues of interest to the Committee.

Recommendation #1

That, in agreement with the 1995 report of the Fraser River Sockeye Public Review Board, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans establish an enforcement branch in DFO Pacific Region, separate from fisheries management; and

That this new branch be headed by a regional director, Enforcement, with extensive law enforcement experience, who would report to an assistant deputy minister, Enforcement, and who would be responsible for developing and maintaining enforcement capability at a level of competence and coverage that would ensure that the Minister's mandate to conserve and protect Canada's Pacific fisheries resources will be filled.

For the 2005 fishing season, DFO Pacific Region will pilot a new line reporting structure for its Conservation and Protection (C&P) program. Field operations will report directly to the Director of C&P at the Vancouver Regional Headquarters, rather than through Area Directors, which is the current model. In turn, the Director of C&P will report to the Regional Director General instead of the Regional Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Management.

This pilot will be evaluated prior to the 2006 fishing season to determine future direction. The evaluation will consider the success of the 2005 pilot, recommendations from the current national compliance modernization initiative and implications for other DFO regions.

Regarding the creation of an enforcement branch in DFO, separate from Fisheries Management and led by an Assistant Deputy Minister enforcement, the work of C&P is intertwined with other fisheries management activities. This approach may not improve overall management of salmon by isolating C&P from these activities. However, organizational change is being analyzed as part of the current national compliance modernization initiative, which is expected to be completed at the end of 2005.

Recommendation #2

That the Department of Fisheries and Oceans restore the number of fishery officers in the Lower Fraser River area at least to the highest level of the 1994-2003 period. DFO's Conservation and Protection Branch should also be given all the resources necessary to carry on their enforcement activities and statutory responsibility to conserve the fishery, particularly during fisheries' closed times.

DFO agrees that additional enforcement resources are needed during critical periods of Fraser salmon migration and in 2005 actions will be taken. While DFO is not considering restoring the number of fishery officers in the Lower Fraser River area to the highest level of the 1994-2003 period, there will be an increased enforcement presence on the Lower Fraser River this year. This will be done through a combination of existing staff and redeployment. During the peak migration period for sockeye (mid June through August), additional officers will be redeployed to the Lower Fraser River from other areas and additional overtime will be provided for officers. As a result, field patrol (vehicle and boat) and monitoring capacity will be increased. Additionally, DFO will increase air surveillance in the lower Fraser River during the peak migration period for sockeye.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of compliance efforts depends not only on enforcement but on proper catch monitoring and catch reporting, activities not part of the compliance program, as well building cooperative relationships with First Nations and stakeholders. DFO's objective is to increase compliance levels in the fishery through all these methods: strengthened enforcement, improved co-management with First Nations and improved catch monitoring. A key element is working with communities, other interests and First Nations to support better compliance. DFO has spent considerable time during the last number of years building better working relationships with First Nations in the Fraser River developing fishing plans that include compliance and catch monitoring and reporting protocols.

Recommendation #3

That the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Fraser River Panel adopt and use more stringent guidelines for closing the fishery when water temperatures reach dangerous levels. In particular, the Department should not shy away from limiting all fishing opportunities, both below and above the Mission bridge when the conservation of salmon stocks is at stake.

DFO agrees that stringent guidelines should be used to reduce or close fisheries when water temperatures in the Fraser River reach dangerous levels for salmon. Conservation is the Department's first priority in management and it has and will continue to limit fishing opportunities and close fisheries in the Fraser River when conservation is at risk. However, where some fishing is possible, First Nation food, social and ceremonial fisheries have priority. The primary tool used in-season to mitigate against environmental conditions like those experienced by Fraser River sockeye in 2004 is the Environmental Management Adjustment (EMA) model. The EMA is used to forecast the impact of fresh water temperatures on migrating salmon. It allows managers to estimate the number of salmon at risk under certain water temperature conditions and then to increase the spawning objective and adjust fisheries accordingly. The EMA provides a basis for precautionary-based fisheries management. Each year the existing EMA models are improved with the addition of the previous year's data.

DFO is also taking other steps to improve the EMA. Two areas for improvement, listed below, have been identified. Improvements to the EMA model in these areas will increase the likelihood of achieving spawning ground targets. Work is planned on both items in 2005.

1) Develop long-range (months) and medium-range (weeks) forecasts of environmental conditions as an early warning system for managers. This can then be used for risk assessments of different fishing scenarios prior to enacting fishing plans.

2) Improve the current short range forecasting (10 days) of environmental conditions. Remove some of the current uncertainly that exists surrounding the 20% of unmonitored systems in the Fraser River by installing additional temperature loggers.

Finally, besides water temperature-related risks, other relevant factors considered in making management decisions to limit or close fisheries are the stock status and associated risks, habitat conditions, priority of harvest (i.e. First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries have first priority after conservation).

Recommendation #4

That the Department of Fisheries and Oceans undertake immediately a study on the impacts of drift gillnets and set gillnets in the Fraser River on the mortality of migrating salmon. In particular, the so-called "drop rate" and any compounding effects of elevated water temperature should be studied. In the interim, the Department should disallow the use of drift gillnets above the Mission bridge pending the findings of the study.

The Department agrees with the importance of a study on the impacts of drift gillnets and set gillnets. In 2005, DFO in cooperation with First Nations will undertake an exploratory study on the impacts of drift and set gillnets in the Fraser River above Mission.

Drift gillnets were authorized for the first time in 2004 for use in Aboriginal fisheries above Mission. However, it is important to note that drift gillnets are used by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal fishers below Mission in the Fraser River and in marine areas throughout the coast, and that "drop out" is a factor in all gillnet fisheries ("Drop-out" refers to the number of fish that fall out of a net before the net is hauled in. In general, the longer a net is left in the water, the higher the "drop out" rate. An important consideration is the mortality rate associated with fish that "drop out" of a net). DFO does not accept the position that drift gillnets are fundamentally bad and does not agree with the recommendation for an immediate ban on the use of drift gillnets above Mission. Pending completion of the 2005 exploratory study, DFO will continue to assess, on a case- by-case basis, whether the use of drift gillnets can be authorized in Aboriginal fisheries above the Mission bridge.

The exploratory study planned in 2005 will have to be conducted for more than one year to establish confidence in the results. In particular, the relationship between the impacts of a gear type and any compounding effects from elevated water temperatures would require longer-term study. Annual reporting of the results from the multi-year study will inform management decision-making. The goal is to determine a long-term management plan for the area above Mission that could include drift gillnets and set gillnets.

In managing Aboriginal fisheries, DFO attempts to manage fisheries in a manner consistent with R. v. Sparrow and subsequent Supreme Court of Canada decisions. Several First Nations on the Fraser River have indicated their preference for fishing with drift gillnets. DFO is continuing to consult with First Nation's on the Fraser River about their interests in using drift gillnets in food, social and ceremonial fisheries. Decisions around the use of drift gillnets would be consistent with court decisions and conservation objectives.

Recommendation #5

That the Government of Canada mandate an independent body to review the findings and recommendations of reports of the past 12 years investigating the management of the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery, including the recommendations of this committee's 2003 report on the matter and those of the current report. The mandate should include determining which previous recommendations have been effectively implemented, and which others should still be implemented; and

That the Government of Canada commit the necessary resources to implement the resulting recommendations.

The 1992, 1994 and 2002 reports on Fraser River sockeye were provided to the 2004 Post Season Review of Southern BC Salmon Fisheries (Fraser River Sockeye) led by former

Chief Justice, Mr. Bryan Williams. DFO also provided the review committee with the department's responses to the 1994 and 2002 reports. This independent review, with input from the Integrated Salmon Harvest Planning Committee, assessed those reports and their findings, as well the department's responses. Their review of past reviews largely addresses this recommendation. The Williams' report notes that DFO has responded to most of the recommendations of the earlier reviews (i.e. 1994 and 2002).

Together the reports by SCOFO and Mr. Williams provide a thorough assessment of the 2004 Fraser River sockeye issues, and a solid basis from which to move forward with required changes. However, fundamental changes are required to get at the root causes of problems in the salmon fishery. The Minister's April 14, 2005 announcement of Pacific Fisheries Reforms lays out a strategy to guide the work that is required over the next number of years. In addition, extensive work is required to resolve long standing conflicts between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal fishers. New institutional arrangements need to be considered to address the serious relationship issues.

Recommendation #6

That the Government of Canada ensure, as a matter of priority, that the Mission hydro-acoustic station be equipped with the latest technology, and establish additional acoustic estimation stations at various strategic locations in the Fraser and Thompson rivers to accomplish quantitative estimates of fish and their stock identity.

DFO agrees about the priority of improving the station at Mission. In 2004, a new sampling scheme, which uses more advanced technology that is capable of more accurate measurements of fish passage, became the primary source of in-season estimates at the Mission facility. As part of its ongoing work, a joint DFO/Pacific Salmon Commission team is evaluating further improvements to the Mission counting system. A range of options has been identified in order to improve the station's estimation efficiency, including the addition of a further hydro-acoustic counting device (split-beam) on the north shore of the Fraser River at Mission. In 2005-06 the options to improve the site will be evaluated.

While DFO is not currently considering the installation of additional hydro acoustic estimation stations on the main-stem Fraser, in 2005-06 DFO will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of a adding a station at either Boston Bar or Qualark. The analysis will consider costs and benefits in the context of a system-wide approach to Fraser River stock assessment that includes all the elements of the stock assessment program, e.g. counting facilities, spawning ground assessments, etc.    

Studies to assess alternative escapement monitoring sites have occurred in recent years. Split-beam technology was used at Qualark Creek in the Fraser River canyon area for a few years following the 1992 Pearse-Larkin Fraser sockeye review. Feasibility studies at other sites in the Fraser and Thompson were also undertaken. Each alternative split-beam site adds an additional cost of $200, 000-$300,000 per year plus start-up costs. In 2005, workplans do include an evaluation of DIDSON (sonar) technology, an alternative acoustical method, at the Harrison-Fraser River confluence.

Recommendation #7

That the Department of Fishery and Oceans re-establish the threshold of 25,000 fish for the mark recapture method to be used for the estimation of spawning escapement.

DFO is not of the view that it is necessary to re-establish the threshold of 25,000 fish. The 75,000 fish threshold introduced in 2004 provides suitable coverage of the spawning systems, coupled with priority studies on key stocks. In October 2004, DFO proposed to the Pacific Salmon Commission to raise the threshold to 75,000 fish as a cost saving measure, which would allow DFO to maintain the extent of escapement survey coverage throughout the Fraser watershed. Prior to 2004, stocks with expected spawner abundances less than 25,000 were estimated using visual surveys, whereas stocks expected to exceed 25,000 were assessed using more precise techniques (e.g. mark-recapture programs). Under DFO's proposal, visual surveys would apply to spawning abundances less than 75,000, and more precise techniques would be used for populations exceeding this level. In October 2004, the Pacific Salmon Commission, with agreement of the U.S., adopted DFO's proposal to raise the threshold with the following conditions:

Recommendation #8

That the Government of Canada support, fund, and collaborate with a scientific consortium established to study and fill the knowledge gaps related to the biology and the management of wild Pacific salmon. The Committee would like to see such a consortium developed as a Network of Centres of Excellence, and would encourage the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to be a partner in this NCE.

As a matter of priority, the following knowledge gaps should be investigated:

The Department agrees, generally, with this recommendation. This is a key area of inquiry and collaborating with outside researchers is important but should not be relied on exclusively. While a formal consortium developed as a Center of Excellence on the biology and management of Pacific salmon is not in place, DFO is collaborating on related science programs with the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. The interest and potential for continued collaborations remains extensive but research in these important areas should not rely on the periodic interest of universities.

The local universities provide a wealth of expertise to draw on, but the logistical facilities and salmon expertise resides within the Department already. The Department's participation in a Center of Excellence as referred to above would have to be considered against current initiatives and other priorities within DFO science.

DFO agrees with the importance of the three priority areas listed and notes that there is previous research and ongoing research on all three. Results from this work are being applied by DFO on an annual basis and continually being reviewed within the Fraser

River, particularly in the management of sockeye salmon. DFO will continue to fund research to fill knowledge gaps in these areas. In 2005, exploratory radio tagging, jointly funded by DFO and the Pacific Salmon Treaty Endowment Fund, is planned. The study will assess the feasibility of estimating mortality in Fraser River sockeye due to fishing and non-fishing factors using telemetry studies. A further telemetry study is proposed in 2006-07. Of note, DFO recently restructured its Pacific science program to have a dedicated focus on salmon stock assessment and scientific research.

While research will continue in these important areas, such as forecasting and predicting changing environmental conditions and their impacts on salmon, such forecasting is by nature inexact and uncertainty will always exist. This raises two considerations for research and management. Firstly, further investment in information and data may reduce uncertainty and risk somewhat, but will not lead to perfectly accurate forecasts. Thus the value-added of additional research in a particular area of salmon management should be considered against the current state of knowledge, level of uncertainty and risk and other priorities in salmon management. Secondly, given the inherent uncertainties in salmon science and management, developing and using risk assessment tools is critical, as a way to mitigate risk.

Recommendation #9

That the Department of Fisheries and Oceans allocate more resources and implement procedures to ensure that prosecutions are not dropped because the chain of evidence has been broken.

DFO agrees that this is a priority. The key issue in ensuring that a chain of evidence is not broken is the traceability of fish after it is harvested. Tracing harvested fish requires a sound catch reporting and monitoring system that is linked to enforcement and investigation activities. As noted in the response to recommendation #2, the department is taking steps to increase the Lower Fraser enforcement capacity during critical periods. In addition, the department is taking steps to improve catch monitoring programs in the Pacific Region. The catch monitoring improvements will include work on procedures for better tracking the disposition of fish (i.e. chain of evidence) after it has been harvested.

Recommendation #10

That the Department of Fisheries and Oceans promote stability and corporate continuity at the upper management level in Pacific Region.

The position of Regional Director General for Pacific Region has recently been filled on an indeterminate basis by the incumbent. He is experienced and knowledgeable, and has had a long working career in Pacific Region. This appointment should improve stability and corporate continuity in upper management within the Pacific Region.

Recommendation #11

That, in agreement with the 2004 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans collect and analyze information to provide up-to-date assessments on habitat conditions and Pacific salmon stocks that are below departmental targets and declining.

The Department generally agrees with this recommendation but notes that the related recommendation (20.40) in the 2004 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, recommended additional actions.

The 2004 CESD's report called for integrated status reports on stocks and habitats based on the Wild Salmon Policy's (WSP) conservation units for each salmon species, and that these reports should be updated annually and used in developing, evaluating and implementing fisheries management plans. In its response, the Department agreed that there is a need to improve the integration of salmon stock and habitat information to guide fisheries decisions and that this is consistent with the ecological approach to fisheries management to which the Department is committed, but that it will be implemented in a staged manner, over time. The Department also questioned whether, annually, was the appropriate time frame for producing the integrated reports.

The Department agrees with the above recommendation's call for up-to-date assessments on habitat conditions and Pacific salmon stocks that are at the highest risk. DFO continues to produce comprehensive status reports for high priority stocks and for habitat issues. It is noteworthy that the WSP, which the Department intends to finalize this spring, establishes a framework to further focus efforts on stocks and habitat that are at the highest risk. The WSP will be implemented in stages consistent with resource availability and in cooperation with First Nations and stakeholders. As conservation units are formalized under the WSP for each salmon species, reports on habitat and on stock status will be based on these conservation units.

DFO currently collects habitat information in partnership with community groups, the Province of British Columbia, and industry sectors. These assessments are accessible in a variety of ways, including watershed atlases and on-line digital mapping. As part of the implementation of the Environmental Process Modernization, DFO's contribution to Smart Regulation, and WSP, two positions have been dedicated to developing a structured monitoring framework for the Habitat Management Program in Pacific Region.

Recently developed planning tools, in conjunction with the Pacific Scientific Advice Review Committee, provide the current basis for the prioritization of salmon stock assessment activities, with focus on key fisheries and weaker stocks that may be at risk. Moreover, under the WSP, detailed information on the status of stocks and associated habitats and ecosystems will be used to develop long term strategic plans. The plans will specify targets as well as management measures and time frames required to achieve them with ongoing annual performance reviews to ensure that targets are achieved.

Recommendation #12

That the Government of Canada secure and increase the annual budget of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council to enable it to hire professional, independent staff.

The Department is not considering an increase to the annual budget of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (PFRCC). The future role of the PFRCC will be reviewed in light of a number of new initiatives. On December 6, 2004 the Province of BC announced the creation of a Pacific Salmon Forum to provide long-term direction on issues relating to wild salmon and salmon farming in BC. The mandate of the Pacific Forum overlaps with the PFRCC's Terms of Reference. As well, there are other recently completed and ongoing processes pertinent to Pacific salmon (e.g. the Joint Task Group and First Nations Panel Reports, the completion of the Wild Salmon Policy (WSP) and the start of WSP implementation, SARA implications, and the Williams Review) that need to be considered. Given the magnitude of the potential changes and the future directions being signaled through all of these initiatives that affect the Pacific salmon resources, it is clear that a coordinated approach that avoids overlap in responsibilities and duplication of efforts is required. This cannot be developed until the various processes are completed and analyzed. Consequently, a decision regarding the future role of the PFRCC will only be made after the various reports and consultation processes are completed and when DFO has a more comprehensive view of how best to proceed in the long-term.