Dean Werk, president of the Fraser Valley Salmon Society, at the Fraser River boat launch at Island 22 Regional Park. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Disastrous sportfishing season on the Fraser River a ‘wakeup call’

Big Bar slide curtailed Fraser fishing opportunities for 2019, affecting the economy

The sportfishing season on the Fraser River was almost a complete write-off as a result of the double-whammy of serious conservation concerns and the Big Bar landslide.

That’s the word on the 2019 season, according to Dean Werk, president of the Fraser Valley Salmon Society, and there’s lots of work to be done to avoid another disastrous season in 2020.

The Big Bar slide on the Fraser, which saw a Herculean multi-agency effort to get trapped fish past a rockslide, played a key role. There was only a short window to take action before fish returned to the river last summer, and government officials did everything possible together with area First Nations to restore some form of natural fish passage for spawners by September.

READ MORE: Sockeye head down to Cultus Lake lab

But there were no recreational salmon fishery openings in the non-tidal portions of the Fraser all season long, Werk said. It was also described as the worst commercial fishing season in 50 years by fishing industry leaders.

The pre-season estimate was for a median forecast of almost five million sockeye salmon to return to the Fraser River, but by the end of summer 2019, it was clear it wouldn’t come anywhere close to that number. One estimate was that only 600,000 fish eventually made it to spawning grounds.

“At the onset of the season in early March, we were looking at projected numbers and it looked quite positive for our area,” Werk, who owns Great River Fishing Adventures, an Indigenous fishing company. “The likelihood was for some pinks (fishery openings), a remote chance with sockeye, and maybe even with chinook, and then coho and chum on the tail-end of that.

“The Big Bar slide, of course, curtailed virtually all of those opportunities. And that is terrible for our local economy,” Werk commented.

Of course visitors will still come to the region to fish for sturgeon.

“But with the dwindling number of salmon stocks, if we have no salmon, it will eventually mean no sturgeon, and what will that do to the tourism and visitor numbers?” he said.

Sportfishing is a huge economic driver in the region and in Chilliwack in particular.

“Chilliwack’s number one tourism product is sportfishing,” Werk said. “It attracts people from all over the world, and it’s great for our economy.”

That economic engine will suffer greatly if the emphasis by DFO is not placed on rebuilding and protecting salmon stocks, as well as habitat protection. Werk would also like to see a long-term strategy to conserve wild salmon.

Sockeye are very important to First Nations for food, social and ceremonial fisheries. Those FSC fisheries were curtailed and ended up at an all-time low.

“So this is a wakeup call,” Werk said, adding that the rest of the blockage still needs to be removed at Big Bar.

“Let’s find a way to let those 2020 salmon migrate through so we have wild salmon for future generations.”

DFO officials are cognizant of the crucial importance of salmon to the province, as they prepare for the 2020 season by pursuing and planning operations to support salmon migration, if need be.

“The health of Pacific salmon is a central priority for DFO in B.C., and we will continue to work with our Indigenous and community partners to protect this critically important species,” said Leri Davies, spokesperson for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Sustained efforts will be needed both in the short and long-term to reduce the impact of the Big Bar landslide on future salmon stocks, and they will be working closely with partners on this as well, Davies said.

“The next phase of the Big Bar Landslide response is well underway to address the slide, which remains a barrier to fish passage with a rise in water levels,” the DFO rep said.

DFO is in the process now of finalizing results of fish migration, spawning and mortality levels due the landslide, which will come from extensive data review, statistical bias testing and salmon sampling data from spawning grounds.

A tender went out Nov. 27 from DFO to gather input from industry and First Nations to determine available solutions, as well as interest and marketplace potential for the construction and environmental remediation services needed to re-establish natural fish passage on the Fraser River.‎

“The intention is to ensure that construction activities begin as soon as possible, and while water levels in the Fraser River are low,” Davies concluded.

READ MORE: Natural fish passage the goal at Big Bar


@CHWKjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

The Fraser River at Island 22 Regional Park. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Just Posted

EDITORIAL: Reflecting on a tragedy, 30 years later

While the Montreal Massacre made headlines because of its scale, gender-based violence is not new

Sicamous Eagles defeat Summerland Steam in overtime decision

Junior B hockey teams faced off in Summerland on Dec. 5

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen directors to receive pay increase

Increase of 11.9 per cent to offset changes to taxation for elected officials

COLUMN: Light holiday movies, filmed here in B.C.

How is it possible to come up with so many holiday-themed movie scripts each year?

COLUMN: Okanagan will be well represented with MPs in critic roles

As critics, it is part of our job to hold the government to account

VIDEO: MPs reflect on anti-feminist violence on 30th anniversary of Montreal massacre

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at Ecole polytechnique on the evening of Dec. 6, 1989

BREAKING: Firefighters battling house fire in Kelowna

The house is located 165 Valleyview Road in Rutland

WATCH: Diehard Vernon Winter Carnival goers line up for tickets

Susan O’Brien was the first in line at 6:45 a.m. Friday

B.C. Transit scores 28 used fareboxes on eBay, saves $300,000

‘Someone joked maybe we can buy used fareboxes on eBay,’ CEO says

Year in jail for ex-Vernon Judo coach for child porn

Bryan McLachlan pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing child pornography

Many of Canada’s working poor can’t afford lawyers, don’t qualify for legal aid

One lawyer says many people earn too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to really live on

Economy lost 71,200 jobs in November, unemployment rate climbs to 5.9%

Jobless rate is at its highest since August 2018, when it hit 6%

RCMP searching for missing Kamloops woman

Hayley Haines was last seen Dec. 3

Trans-Canada Highway closed east of Revelstoke after head-on collision between trucks

The highway isn’t expected to reopen until after 2 p.m.

Most Read