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Information about Fraser River chinook fisheries management measures

DFO’s fisheries management measures support the recovery of at-risk Fraser River chinook populations, provide access for First Nations food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fisheries, and provide access for commercial and recreational fisheries to harvest healthy chinook populations. These measures were put in place to support the jobs and communities that depend on chinook fisheries. 

We frequently receive letters asking for more information about Fraser River chinook management measures. As many of the questions are similar in nature, we have collected them and are sharing this compilation as broadly as possible so that we can respond fully and in a transparent manner. This page is updated as new questions are asked and answered.

Frequently asked questions

Current status of Fraser River chinook

What are the threats to Fraser River chinook?

Fraser River chinook salmon have been in decline for many years as a result of a number of factors, including poor marine conditions, climate change, freshwater habitat destruction, and harvest. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has assessed 16 of the 17 wild populations of Fraser River Chinook and found all but one to be at-risk; 10 of these have been deemed Endangered.

In Canada, the rate of warming has been double the global average because climate change is occurring at greater rates at northern latitudes. Fraser River temperatures are warming due to a combination of lower than average spring snow packs and hotter and dryer summer conditions. As a result, summer water temperature in the river are increasingly approaching or exceeding tolerable limits for salmon.

An increase in extreme weather events like droughts and flooding, and record back-to-back forest fire years in 2017 and 2018, have increased erosion and sedimentation in BC and disrupted the natural hydrology of rivers that chinook salmon rely upon for spawning and rearing. Human activities such as logging, agriculture and urban development further contribute to habitat losses and changes to water quality. This has resulted in less productive freshwater habitat for some areas and salmon populations.

Salmon are also affected by environmental conditions in the ocean. An unprecedented marine heatwave in the northeast Pacific from late-2013 to 2019 had profound influences on salmon food webs. For example, the zooplankton available have a lower fat content and are poor quality food for salmon.

These challenges have been associated with broad declines in productivity of many chinook salmon populations across their natural range, which includes BC, Alaska, Washington State and Oregon. chinook salmon productivity is estimated to have declined from 25% to 40% since the early 1980s across many BC indicator stocks.

I’m encountering plenty of chinook during recreational fishing in marine areas. Why are there so many chinook?

Fraser River chinook stocks of concern intermingle with a large number of Canadian and United States-origin chinook in marine waters. Fraser River chinook often comprise a small percentage of the total number of chinook given the relative abundance of other populations.

It is important to remember that the impacts of any one harvester may seem small, but multiplied across all harvesters and the total number of chinook harvested and released, the impacts can be significant. With an estimated release mortality rate in the recreational fishery of about 20%, the cumulative fishery mortality on at-risk chinook populations may not be sustainable. Fisheries management measures to achieve very low fishery mortalities (approaching 5%) were implemented in 2019, but even with the restrictions in place, did not fully meet these harvest objectives. In 2020 we have further adjusted the management measures to maximize the return of fish to their spawning areas.

Are there concerns for Harrison River chinook?

Harrison chinook have been designated as threatened by COSEWIC and there are also management requirements specified in the Pacific Salmon Treaty that require Canada to achieve the biological escapement goal of 75,100 chinook and to reduce exploitation rates when this escapement goal may not be met. Harrison River chinook, which rear in local waters around Vancouver Island, are present year-round and often comprise a higher proportion of the catch. Given our expectation that the Harrison escapement goal may not be met in 2020, the chinook fishery measures are also intended to reduce fishery mortalities on this stock in order to support objectives in the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Fisheries management measures

What fishery management measures are in place for 2020?

The 2020 fisheries management measures to protect Fraser River chinook are available on our website.

What measures will be in place for 2021?

Given the extent of the decline for Fraser River Chinook stocks of concern, fishery restrictions will continue to be required to protect these stocks in 2021 and future years. Decisions will be informed by science advice and stock assessment data, will be consistent with salmon allocation priorities and will consider feedback from our established advisory and consultation process. Management measures will be posted to our website and through the Fishery Notice system.

We receive formal advice on recreational fisheries for Pacific salmon from recreational representatives via local Sport Fishing Advisory Boards. If you wish to consider participation in this process, or for more information on the process, please visit our Sport Fishing Advisory Board webpage.

Why is fishing for other, more abundant, salmon species also restricted?

The Department is continuing to permit fishing for more abundant salmon species at most times and in most areas. Please refer to specific regulations for the area where you plan to fish on by subscribing to Fishery Notices or checking them on our website. In areas where chinook retention is not permitted, efforts must be made to return any chinook that are encountered to the water with the least possible harm.

Why is DFO restricting commercial troll fisheries?

The commercial harvest of chinook and coho salmon will occur when abundance permits after providing for conservation, First Nations FSC and recreational opportunities. When harvestable surpluses are high, chinook and coho salmon will be available in directed commercial fisheries. When harvestable surpluses are lower, some chinook and coho may be caught by commercial fisheries on a non-retention basis to allow them to carry out their directed fisheries on other salmon species. Delayed starts for the Area G (WCVI) and Area F (Northern BC) chinook retention fisheries are intended to avoid encounters of at-risk Fraser River chinook and allow additional numbers of healthy Fraser River Summer 41 chinook to pass through the Northern Troll fishery to provide for First Nations FSC access in the Fraser River.

Why aren’t other commercial salmon fisheries affected?

Salmon seine, gillnet and Area H (fishes in inside waters in southern BC) are not permitted to retain chinook and must use selective fishing practices (including revival boxes) to release chinook with the least possible harm during fisheries for other species (primarily sockeye, pink and chum). chinook retention is only permitted in areas where impacts on Fraser River chinook are not expected (e.g., WCVI terminal fisheries).

Why is there an 80cm maximum size limit for recreational fisheries?

A maximum size limit is a management tool to protect the largest spawners from harvest. For 2020, the 80cm maximum size limit for Chinook salmon has been put in place to protect the largest Fraser River Chinook spawners, which are typically Age 5. According to spawning ground samples from the Chilko River system, approximately 80% of Age 5 spawners would be protected by the maximum size limit. (The proportion of Fraser Summer 52 Chinook of any age over 80cm is about 40% based on marine recreational fishery DNA samples with paired length data).

A higher proportion of these larger Chinook tend to be female and these larger females carry more eggs. They may also have higher effective spawning success in the face of migration challenges due to the Big Bar landslide and increased climate and habitat stressors.

Enforcement

How are these measures be enforced?

The enforcement of measures to protect at-risk Fraser River chinook is a priority for DFO.

In keeping with our mandate to manage Canada's fisheries in a sustainable manner, we are responsible for enforcing the Fisheries Act and other regulations and legislation. 150 front line fishery officers work in the Pacific Region. We deploy fishery officers around the province, where necessary, to respond to priority issues using a variety of methods, including aerial, ocean, river, on-the-ground, night and undercover patrols, while also pursuing complex and large investigations.

First Nations food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fisheries

Do First Nations receive priority access for chinook?

Our first priority in the management of all fisheries is conservation. After conservation, the next priority is harvest opportunities for Indigenous fisheries for food, social and ceremonial (FSC) purposes. This is a legal obligation, consistent with Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982, and case law which followed.

We have received a large volume of correspondence on 2020 chinook fisheries measures. We understand the tremendous importance of chinook management decisions to all parties affected and that these measures are challenging for all. It is more important than ever for people maintain respectful dialogue and to work together in collaboration to help reverse the trend of decline in these stocks. We stand firmly behind the recent First Ministers’ statement on anti-racism and are committed to continued reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Are there any restrictions for First Nations FSC fisheries in the Fraser River? Why are First Nations harvest opportunities being provided if Fraser chinook are at risk?

First Nations FSC fisheries in the Fraser River encounter at-risk Fraser River chinook and significant reductions in fishing opportunities are in effect to protect these chinook. Only limited opportunities, such as First Fish ceremonies, are being authorized to harvest small numbers of chinook prior to mid-July to maintain very low fishery mortalities on these stocks.

Conservation of Pacific salmon stocks is the primary objective and will take precedence in managing the resource. After conservation needs are met, First Nations’ FSC requirements and treaty obligations to First Nations have first priority in salmon allocation.

Why are First Nations permitted to use gill net gear in the Fraser River?

After conservation, First Nations have priority access to harvest salmon for food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fisheries and gillnet gear is the preferred fishing method for most Fraser River First Nations. Restricting gillnet fisheries would place significant hardship on First Nations communities who rely on Fraser River Chum salmon for their food security and cultural needs.

We are permitting only very limited Fraser River FSC fishery opportunities to harvest Chinook in the Fraser River during the migration of at-risk Fraser Chinook. This is consistent with our objective to achieve very low fishery mortalities levels for these stocks.

Lower Fraser Chinook Fisheries have been greatly reduced since the early 2000s, when large communal fisheries started in early March and fishing occurred every weekend. In 2019, fisheries for Chinook were planned to start in late July but were delayed to early August due to Big Bar slide and sockeye bycatch restraints. This resulted in very limited fishing times throughout August 2019.

For 2020, we are licensing limited participation fisheries to permit fishing by a limited number of individuals to harvest limited numbers of chinook (e.g., 3 Chinook) to provide for ceremonies, such as First Fish ceremonies, First fish) and unplanned events, such as funerals, for each community.

More information on Fraser River First Nations Food, Social and Ceremonial fishery openings and catch information is available on our website.

Socio-economic impacts

Was a socio-economic analysis done to support decision making?

Recreational and commercial Chinook fisheries are important contributors to the economy of BC. The Department considered economic information for recreational and commercial fisheries as part of the decision-making process.

Will DFO provide financial compensation for those whose livelihood has been affected by fisheries restrictions?

Fisheries closures for conservation purposes are critical to supporting a healthy and economically sustainable fishery. DFO is aware of the challenges that the fisheries restrictions and low returns pose to commercial harvesters, the recreational fishing tourism trade, and others who rely on salmon for their livelihood.

The abundance of salmon populations can fluctuate significantly from one year to the next. Providing financial compensation to fish harvesters in response to fluctuations in resource abundance goes beyond DFO’s mandate. Questions regarding financial assistance should be directed to Employment and Social Development Canada.

You may also wish to read about the government of Canada’s efforts to support fishing industries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Engagement

How did DFO consult prior to making decisions for the 2020 Fraser River chinook fishery?

Our first priority in the management of all fisheries is conservation. After conservation, we give priority to harvest opportunities for Indigenous fisheries for food, social and ceremonial (FSC) purposes. We provide recreational and commercial opportunities where possible, consistent with the Salmon Allocation Policy, and working with all harvest sectors to seek solutions that consider the complex and varied perspectives on fisheries conservation and management.

In early March, 2020, we sent a letter to First Nations and stakeholders outlining the consultation approach for the upcoming season and requesting feedback on changes to the 2019 management measures or proposals for alternative measures for the 2020 season. We evaluated proposed changes using an Evaluation Framework developed by the Southern BC chinook Committee, which comprises representatives from the commercial and recreational fishing sectors, environmental organizations, First Nations, and the Province of BC. This framework was designed to transparently assess potential outcomes for conservation (including impacts on Fraser River chinook stocks of concern or other chinook stocks), First Nations FSC access and recreational and commercial harvest opportunities. Similar to previous years, consultations were continued through the consultative processes to develop Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plans with the addition of input from the Southern BC chinook Committee.

Options were presented to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coastguard, who made a final decision for the 2020 Fraser chinook season.

We receive input from First Nations, commercial and recreational harvesters and the Marine Conservation Caucus. Recreational input was developed via local Sport Fishing Advisory Board processes. For more information, please visit the Sport Fishing Advisory Board website.

Hatchery marking

Why isn’t mass marking of chinook done in Canada?

We are currently reviewing information to support decision-making on whether to expand the use of fishery regulations that permit retention of hatchery-origin marked chinook—also known as Mark Selective Fisheries (MSF)—and/or mass-marking of hatchery chinook production. There are a number of issues to consider; work is underway to develop the information required to support decisions on the use of mass marking and/or MSF in Canada.

These issues include:

  • Ensuring stock assessment information is not compromised: Mass-marking of all hatchery fish would require Canada to significantly adapt the fishery monitoring and stock assessment programs necessary to maintain information on wild chinook and to meet Canada’s Pacific Salmon Treaty obligations. Changes to the stock assessment program would take considerable time and resources, and could not be developed without further consulting with the US to ensure we meet our commitments under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
  • Cost: Marking significant numbers of hatchery-origin chinook would incur substantial costs and in some areas may be logistically challenging.
  • Effects on ecosystems: Producing additional hatchery-origin chinook to support fisheries must be carefully planned in order to manage ecosystem effects (e.g., carrying capacity of natural systems to support salmon); control potential competitive interactions between hatchery and wild salmon; ensure that the genetic diversity of wild origin salmon is maintained; and, ensure MSF fisheries do not adversely impact wild unmarked stocks of conservation concern.
  • Mortality: There would still be many times and areas where the proportion of marked fish encounters would likely remain too low to support MSF without incurring substantial release mortality on unmarked fish.

We are conducting a pilot project to mark Conuma Hatchery chinook in conjunction with a project exploring the application of genetic tools (parentage-based tagging) of all hatchery-origin chinook broodstock for the next 3 years. The goal is to determine whether PBT, combined with enhanced catch monitoring and genetic stock identification sampling, will provide the assessment information currently derived from the Coded Wire Tag (CWT) Indicator stock program with equal or greater accuracy and precision, and determine whether this approach mitigates the potential impacts of MSF on the CWT Indicator stock program.

Fraser River chinook and marine mammals

Are the Fraser River chinook fisheries management measures being taken to provide prey for Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW)?

These measures are being taken to address serious conservation concerns for Fraser River chinook; however, reductions in marine fisheries may result in additional chinook passing through SRKW critical habitat where they would be available to provide food for SRKW. Research indicates that Fraser chinook form an important component of SRKW diet. Fraser chinook conservation measures have been coordinated to complement measures announced to support enhanced prey availability for SRKW.

Can seal culls be used to reduce pressure on at-risk chinook stocks?

We view the management of seals and sea lions (pinnipeds) from an ecosystem perspective and take their overall role in the environment into consideration. For instance, sea lions and harbour seals are an important food source for transient killer whales, which have been listed as threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) since 2003. Ongoing diet studies show that sea lions and seals are opportunistic predators, feeding mainly on prey that are locally and seasonally abundant and accessible, including herring and hake (a fish that preys on salmon). Salmon make up less than 10 percent of sea lion’s overall diet.

The Department is aware of concerns about the impacts of predators on salmon, including humpback whales, sea birds, and seals and sea lions, and is considering these as part of the Southern BC chinook Committee. To understand the pinniped-salmon interaction better, the Department is taking a science-based approach, and along with academic and US partners, DFO convened two expert workshops in 2019 to summarize what is known about pinniped predation on salmon, with a focus on the Salish Sea. There is large degree of uncertainty regarding the impact of pinnipeds versus other predators or factors which may also be contributing to stock declines. The published proceedings from the first workshop are available online. The proceedings from the second workshop will soon be available.

Additional protections

What other measures are in place to protect and restore at-risk chinook?

Though fisheries management measures are an important tool, they will not be sufficient on their own to restore these important stocks. To protect and restore chinook populations, we are also working on a number of other areas :

  • Habitat protection: Bringing in a new Fisheries Act to restore protections for fish habitat, and working closely with the BC government on land and water use policies that can impact critical habitat.
  • Habitat restoration: In partnership with the Province of British Columbia, we have created a BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, contributing more than $142 million over five years, enabling salmon and habitat restoration projects in communities across the province.
  • Climate adaptation: Climate affects the survival of Pacific salmon through changes in ocean and freshwater habitats. We are researching how warming waters affect salmon through all life stages, and the implications for ecosystems, and released our first State of Pacific Salmon report in 2019.
  • Improved stock assessment: In the 2018 Economic Statement we committed an additional $107 million to support the implementation of the Fish Stocks provisions of the renewed Fisheries Act. These resources will help improve Pacific salmon stock assessments and contribute to a better managed fishery.
  • Enhanced science and collaboration: To gain a better understanding of what is happening in the North Pacific and how salmon returns are being affected, we recently co-sponsored a second research expedition to the North Pacific with scientists drawn from five countries (Russia, US, Japan, South Korea and Canada).
What is DFO doing to address the Big Bar landslide so that Chinook salmon can reach their spawning grounds?

Addressing the significant landslide near Big Bar is a top priority for DFO. In partnership with First Nations and the Province of BC, we are working towards restoring sustainable fish passage for future salmon returns. For current information on the Big Bar landslide response, please visit our Big Bar landslide response webpage, which is updated weekly.

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