IN THE NEWS ~ Julian says 'crisis' needs better response; Local MP says DFO not taking problem seriously

Julian says 'crisis' needs better response; Local MP says DFO not taking problem seriously
The Record (New Westminster) Wed Oct 14 2009
Section: News Byline: Jennifer Moreau

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is expecting to meet its conservation targets for sockeye salmon although millions are missing from this year's Fraser River run.

In July, Fisheries and Oceans Canada was forecasting 10.6 million sockeye salmon would return to the Fraser this year. Only 1.37 million returned, and no one knows why exactly.

Theories include sea lice from fish farms, warming waters (which would affect available food for the fish and migratory patterns for their predators) and pollution.

"The management objective for the year was to put the majority of those fish into the system to spawn, and we've met that objective," said Barry Rosenberger, B.C. Interior area director for the DFO's Pacific region.

The Fraser sockeye fishery has been closed all season apart from test catches and some limited First Nations fishing. That has left 92 per cent of the surviving sockeye free to return to spawn. Of those that return, about 90 per cent spawn successfully, but those final counts won't be ready till January or February.

And while this year's sockeye return is the lowest in 50 years, Rosenberger said they've rebuilt stocks from worse cases in the past.
"This is the lowest return in 50 years. This is not the lowest spawning level in that 50 year data set. We've been at this level of spawning 10 or 11 times in that 50 years, and the stocks have rebuilt and improved to much higher numbers," Rosenberger said. "We know that we have experienced this level of spawning numbers, and we have been able to build these into much larger returns. That's the objective we will be having."
Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian said the sockeye fishery has already collapsed.

"They just have to get their heads screwed on straight that it's not cause for celebration that a million salmon have made it back even though we expected 10 million. The emergency measure to shut down the fishery has meant economic loss. It's been a catastrophe for those who make a living from wild salmon. It's not something to celebrate at all," he said. "DFO just doesn't seem to be taking this seriously."

Julian is still calling for an emergency summit to implement an action plan to deal with the problem. He recently raised the issue with Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in the House of Commons.

"Nothing has been done since this crisis has unfolded," he said.

Rosenberger said there has not been a salmon collapse in the Fraser.

While sockeye are the most sought-after salmon by commercial and First Nations fishers, they are one of five types; there are also coho, Chinook, pink and chum. Rosenberger said this year's pink salmon return is one of the most abundant in the Fraser River record, which spans about 50 years.
Rosenberger pointed out that pink have a two-year life span while sockeye have four, meaning they headed out to sea at different times and under different conditions.

Biologist and longtime fish farm critic Alexandra Morton was one of the last to see the sockeye as they headed out on their migratory paths.
She saw them in the summer of 2007, as they passed fish farms near Campbell River and the Discovery Islands.

"They had up to 28 sea lice each. And these are small fish, these are baby fish," she said. "But I don't know what diseases they have."
According to Morton, bacterial and viral epidemics in fish farms are also a problem for wild salmon.

"The problem is way bigger than sea lice," she said.

Morton said the returning sockeye may not be enough, and that the run "may very well go extinct."

Morton said if no one knows what the problem is behind the low sockeye numbers, more fish could meet the same fate.
"If they don't fix the problem, (and) nothing is resolved, then we will lose the fish," she said.

Morton called for a judicial enquiry into how the DFO is handling the problem.
"We've got to get these guys under oath," she said.

For more on this story, including an interview with Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, see Jennifer Moreau's blog, Community Conversations, at www.burnabynow.com.