Sunday, May 04, 2008

Anxious days for the North Coast fisheries

"As we get closer to the fishing season, every signal we're getting from DFO is for an absolutely devastating fishing season,"--NDP MP Nathan Cullen with less than reassuring words for North coast fishermen

With the 2008 fishing season fast approaching, the signs aren't particularly promising for those that make their living from the provinces various fishing industries.

DFO will announce their 2008 Fishing plan in the next few weeks and fishing industry participants are bracing for challenging news.

Nathan Cullen the NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley, has heard the rumblings and outlined his concerns in a front page story in Friday's Daily News.

By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Friday, May 02, 2008
Pages one and three

It will still be another few weeks before the North Coast Integrated Fishery Management Plan is finalized, but already there's a great deal of concern that it could be a devastating season for all sectors.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said yesterday that he has grave concerns about how the season may play out in his constituency and throughout the waters of British Columbia.

"As we get closer to the fishing season, every signal we're getting from DFO is for an absolutely devastating fishing season," said Cullen.

"Unless their early estimates prove wrong, there could be potentially complete closures on the South Coast and Fraser River fishery. They'll be trying to push more commercial boats our way, putting more pressure on our stocks. I think we're in for a real battle this summer, and I wish it weren't so.

"It's going to be tense on the water, and we'll see what kind of decisions we get from DFO and from the users."

Local United Fishermen and Allied Worker's Union representative Joy Thorkelson said early suggestions say pink salmon returns could be low-to-moderate, and it may be a very poor year for sockeye on the Nass and Skeena Rivers.

"DFO's prediction is poor, but they have poor predictions," said Thorkelson. "In nobody's wildest dreams do we expect a large pink run. Because the prediction is so low on sockeye, and that's really the money fish, fishermen are of course extremely disturbed at the low expectations.
"However, fishermen are always hopeful, and fish are unpredictable."

Thorkelson explained the reason for low expectations this year was due to ocean survival conditions, and that it has nothing to do with overfishing on the part of fishermen. The four-year-old fish that make up roughly 50 per cent of the run are expected to return to the Skeena in "decent" numbers, but the returning five-year-olds will be basically non-existent due to an unknown factor out in the ocean. Fisheries and Oceans Canada declined to speculate on what this year's fishery may look like, but insisted that consultations are ongoing and the information will be public knowledge shortly.

"It is dependent on the stock returns, and for example the Integrated Fishery Management Plan for the north coast is essentially an 80-page document that sets out the excruciating details of how that gets decided in season," said Susan Farlinger, Pacific regional director with DFO.

"That [document] will be out this week for consultation and all the fishing advisory groups have been involved, sport, commercial and First Nations, in terms of developing the plan to date and they will be involved in finalizing the plan as well."

Many meetings among stakeholders will be taking place over the next few weeks to hammer out the best plan, and it's speculated that the Skeena River Independent Science Review Panel's upcoming report and recommendations will play a significant role in local decisions.

"It depends very much on the nature of their recommendations and how quickly they may or may not be able to be implemented," said Farlinger.

"The department certainly supports the review and will take the advice of the review into account, no question about that."

Cullen said that if current predictions are accurate, his constituents have every reason to be worried about how the fishery will play out this summer.

"We've been given every sign they want to push the commercial fleet north again, but in a more significant way," said Cullen.

"It goes right across the board; recreational users, commercial, sport fishers, lodges, the whole thing. There's a real threat. But the general signals being sent by the federal government are terrible, and I'm hearing this from fishermen as well."

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