Extremely low sockeye returns continue to trigger widespread conservation measures on the Skeena River.
On July 27, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) issued a complete closure of recreational fishing of all salmon species in the Skeena Watershed, following a July 11 halt to recreational sockeye in Areas 4 and 5.
On July 29, DFO also closed the Skeena River to all First Nations sockeye. Non-retention of sockeye and prohibitions on First Nations gillnet harvests of other species are also in place in Area 4 and parts of 3 and 5.
DFO’s acting area director for the North Coast, Amy Wakelin, says the department held several meeting with the Sport Fish Advisory Committee prior to issuing the complete recreational ban.
“They’re not excited, but I think they understood the reasons for the decision,” Wakelin says. “We put that closure in place to make sure First Nations have access to other species in the absence of Sockeye.”
As of July 30 the mid-point estimate for this season was just 409,400 sockeye, barely meeting the minimum threshold for a First Nations fishery and far below the 800,000 threshold for recreational.
DFO has come under fire in the past closing fisheries on estimates that proved to be significantly lower than actual counts.
Waklin appreciates that concern again this season and says DFO will monitor the situation closely.
“Because we use estimates, I think people will have different ideas of what the numbers should be. We are keeping a close eye on the estimates as they come through and will be responsive as our certainty increases.”