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Information about Fraser River chinook fisheries management measures

Our 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 fisheries management measures were put in place to support the jobs and communities that depend on chinook fisheries. 

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.

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

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. An 80 cm 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 this maximum size limit.

A higher proportion of these larger chinook tend to be female and these larger females carry more eggs. A larger body size may also provide advantages with overall spawning success, especially in the face of migration challenges due to the Big Bar landslide and increased climate and habitat stressors.

What chinook management measures are currently in place?

Recreational fishing limits, openings and closures in British Columbia can be found on our website and are announced through fishery notices:

Information on 2021 mark selective fishing opportunities can also be found on our website. Other potential adjustments and management measures will be announced as a part of the 2021/22 Integrated Fisheries Management Plan.

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 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?

Following conservation requirements, First Nations have priority access to harvest salmon for food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fisheries. There are a number of First Nations who rely on Fraser River salmon (primarily through gillnet fisheries) for their food security and cultural needs; restricting these fisheries would place significant hardship on their communities.

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 mortality levels for these stocks.

Lower Fraser chinook FSC fisheries have been greatly reduced since the early 2000s, when large communal fisheries started in early March and fishing occurred every weekend. While Fraser chinook stocks of concern are migrating through the Fraser River, we license limited-participation fisheries to permit fishing by a limited number of individuals to harvest limited numbers of chinook (e.g., 3 fish per community) to provide for ceremonies (such as First Fish ceremonies) 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

Have socio-economic factors been considered in the decision-making process?

We recognize the importance of salmon fisheries to the economy of British Columbia and work in partnership with harvest representatives through various forums to ensure that relevant socio-economic factors are considered in the decision-making process.

Will Fisheries and Oceans Canada provide financial compensation for those whose livelihood has been affected by fisheries restrictions?

Fisheries restrictions designed to meet conservation objectives are critical for supporting a healthy and economically sustainable fishery. We are 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 our 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.

Hatchery marking

Hatchery marking

We understand the importance of fishing opportunities for recreational anglers and recognize the keen interest in expansion of opportunities for hatchery-origin marked Chinook (also known as mark-selective fisheries, or MSF). We are committed to science-based decision making and manage the fishery resource with a cautious approach to support the sustainability of Canada’s fisheries. We do this in a manner that seeks to minimize economic impacts.

What fisheries are classified as MSF?

For the purposes of implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, any fishery that has different regulations for the retention of hatchery fish vs. regulations for wild fish is classified as an MSF fishery. This could include fisheries with marked only retention, as is the case in Beecher Bay (20-5) or regulations that also allow some wild retention (e.g. <80cm) in addition to marked retention (e.g. Areas 12, 13, 15 and 16). Data generated from these opportunities will be used to support post-season evaluation and future decision-making.

Why didn’t DFO adopt all of the Marked Selective Fisheries proposals developed by stakeholders?

Several proposed recreational Marked Selective Fisheries (MSF) opportunities for the 2021 to 2022 season were submitted to us by stakeholders, including the Sport Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB), for consideration. We consulted widely on these proposals with First Nations, the SFAB and others through our established advisory and consultation process. Decisions regarding the recreational fishing proposals were informed by scientific advice and stock assessment data included in our preliminary evaluations, and consistent with salmon allocation priorities. They also considered concerns raised in feedback provided to us, including:

  • The need to maintain a cautious management approach for chinook salmon in Southern BC, given the number of populations assessed as at-risk or data deficient by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) (including 2 not at risk, 13 endangered, 7 threatened, 2 special concern, and 5 data deficient).
  • Concern that proposals may result in an increase in recreational fishing effort and release mortality of wild fish, resulting in conservation impacts for stocks of concern and inconsistent with the Salmon Allocation Policy priority for First Nations FSC access after conservation.
  • Concerns about impacts of MSF regulations on our stock assessment programs that rely on hatchery-marked, coded wire tag indicator stocks that are used to represent wild chinook populations.
  • Support from the recreational sector to expand implementation of MSF opportunities in the short term to provide relief from chinook non-retention measures in effect in Southern BC.
Are there any recreational Marked Selected Fisheries opportunities in 2021?

We have approved chinook recreational fishery opportunities for the 2021 fishing season in portions of Areas 12, 13, 15, 16, and Subarea 20-5. Data generated from these opportunities will be used to support post-season evaluation and future decision-making. Chinook fishery plans for the remainder of the year will be outlined in the Southern BC Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) covering June 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022.

MSF fisheries must be considered as part of a longer-term, integrated approach for Pacific salmon management. They must also be balanced with a full understanding of the issues and resource requirements needed to mitigate the short- and long-term concerns. Information on 2021 mark selective fishing opportunities can be found on our Conservation measures for Fraser River chinook and limited mark selective fisheries opportunities webpage.

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.

On June 8, 2021, we announced that the federal government is investing $647.1 million in the transformative Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI) to respond to Pacific salmon declines and that new actions under the initiative will move ahead in collaboration with First Nations, partners, and key stakeholders. The overarching goal of this initiative is to conserve and protect Pacific salmon and their habitats and ecosystems across BC and Yukon. The PSSI will take a multi-pronged approach built on 4 key pillars:

  • conservation and stewardship
  • enhanced hatchery production
  • harvest transformation
  • integrated management and collaboration.

We will engage with Indigenous and coastal communities, other levels of government, commercial and recreational harvesters, stewardship organizations, and others. We will update the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative website as new information is available.

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 5 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 co-sponsored 2 research expeditions to the North Pacific with scientists from Russia, US, Japan, South Korea and Canada.
What is Fisheries and Oceans Canada 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 us. 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.

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