Sportfishing advocates are holding a demonstration fishery Saturday on the Fraser River near Chilliwack to showcase the selective nature of bar fishing.
They say they are heading out despite the fact that Fraser River is completely closed to salmon harvesting by recreational anglers for conservation reasons.
Co-chairs of the Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance (FRSA) say they are confident the “demonstration fishery” will show that bar fishing selectively for chinook salmon has “virtually zero impact” on passing sockeye salmon.
No other angling methods will be permitted.
“We are going to document exactly how many are caught, and what species, and it will be strictly monitored,” said FRSA co-chair Fred Helmer. “We want to show that bar fishing is a viable option.”
Also with retention fisheries for chinook and pinks open in the marine approaches, they feel those fishing up-river should get a shot.
“This is not a protest but a demonstration. We want to try to fix the problem,” said Helmer. “You can yell and scream and bitch, or you can come up with facts and solutions. This is about demonstrating options.”
They’ve been lobbying to get the river open, stressing at the same time that they respect “conservation and we respect the constitutional priority of First Nations,” according to the group’s mandate.
DFO officials said flat out this week that any illegal fishing for salmon by the recreational fishermen near Chilliwack could result in charges and fines.
Herb Redekopp, chief of Conservation and Protection of the Lower Fraser, for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said in his 32 years with the department, he’s never seen the sockeye runs “so depleted” as they are this year.
Returns could ultimately be even weaker than last year’s lowest numbers on record.
“That’s how bad it is,” Redekopp said.
There have been no commercial, or recreational fishery openings this summer, and only “very limited” food, social and ceremonial fisheries (FSC) for First Nations, he said.
Last weekend DFO fishery officers intercepted and seized 24 illegal gillnets on the river between Chilliwack and Hell’s Gate. Gillnets catch sockeye with small mesh netting.
Out in the Marine Area 28 recreational fishers were ticketed for using barbed hooks, and another 16 got citations for not recording their catch of chinook salmon, according to DFO.
“In my view I don’t see anything that indicates that strength of the runs will increase, and so it’s my expectation that river will remain closed to fishing for all salmon,” said Redekopp.
The angling community has been patient and respectful of conservation concerns, said FRSA co-chair Rod Clapton.
“The number of in-river net fisheries and outside fisheries suggests the conservation concerns have abated and our fishery should commence,” he said. “The Fraser River recreational fishery has been a priceless Canadian heritage for many generations. We have grave concerns that this fishery will be lost to our children and grandchildren.”
Efforts to work with DFO to get the river open to selective fisheries, have been to date mostly “ignored” and now time is running out for this season.
A similar bar-fishing demonstration was going to happen last August, before the sportfishers were given a reprieve with a short opening.
However DFO management meets with various stakeholders to hammer out the Fraser River fisheries with user groups way in advance of any openings.
“The numbers moving through the system are so low, we can’t afford an opening,” said Redekopp. “I don’t understand why any recreational fishermen would even want to harvest with such a depleted number trying to reach the spawning grounds. The river is closed for a reason.”
Anglers participating in the bar-fishing demonstration fishery will be meeting at the Island 22 boat launch starting at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2.