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

More childcare spaces coming for Kelowna families

The provincial government stated that additional funding will create 68 more spaces in the Okanagan

Rockets grab win over reigning league champs in first game of road trip

Kelowna beat the Prince Albert Raiders 2-1 Friday night, take on Saskatoon Saturday

GoFundMe started for Kelowna family who lost pet, home in Rutland fire

A fire tore through a Rutland four-plex in the morning on Dec. 6

Kelowna man attempts to steal bait bike from RCMP parking lot

38-year-old Brian Richard Harbison is facing several charges

City of Kelowna urges people to donate to non-profits instead of directly to homeless

The new homeless camp on Recreation Avenue isn’t equipped to handle donations

VIDEO: Boys help rescue Cariboo bear cub

The cub, weighing just 24lbs, has been taken to wildlife sanctuary in Northwest B.C. for the winter

$578: that’s how much your first distracted driving ticket will cost with recent premium hikes

Over 50 per cent of Canadians admitted to using phone while driving last year, according to study

Healing with honesty: Justice served 40 years later

Revelstoke senior gets house arrest for sexually assaulting stepdaughter

WorkSafe BC to investigate explosion at Princeton facility

Explosion at Envirogreen waste reclamation plant occurred Nov. 27

Doors open to Vernon’s first refill store

Vernon’s Refill Store may be answer to plastics problem

Okanagan RCMP not toying around when it comes to impaired drivers

Saturday, Dec. 7 is National Impaired Driving Enforcement Day

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

Bear raids freezer, gorges on Island family’s Christmas baking

Hungry bruin virtually ignored meat and fish, focused, instead, on the sweets

Crown delves into Sagmoen’s history with North Okanagan sex workers

Decision on validity of police search warrant will be made on Monday, Dec. 9

Most Read