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A 24-pound chinook salmon sits on the dock in Vancouver on Saturday August 18, 2012.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Expanded fishing closures and size restrictions were announced Friday as part of new actions by the federal government to protect threatened Fraser River chinook salmon populations.

Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to the fisheries minister, said much of the waters near the mouth of the Fraser River will be closed to chinook fishing and any chinook longer than 80 centimetres must be released. The measures are aimed at rebuilding stocks facing steep declines, Beech said.

Chinook salmon, a traditional food source and ceremonial fish for Indigenous Peoples, are prized by anglers for their size and strength and are a lucrative catch for the commercial fishery. They are also the favoured food of endangered southern resident killer whales.

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“The stocks are facing major stresses and historic lows in their populations and that causes us to take unprecedented action,” Beech said in an interview on Friday. “In the short-term, these decisions get harder the longer we put these tough decisions off.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada acted last year to protect Fraser River chinook stocks, that included efforts to clear a massive landslide in the river, which further threatened the species.

The measures were also taken to protect the southern resident orcas, whose numbers are now at 72.

Beech said of the 13 Fraser River chinook populations, 12 are considered to be at risk. The protection measures are aimed to ensure as many chinook get to their spawning areas as possible, he said.

Beech said limiting catch size to 80 centimetres will protect populations because the majority of the larger chinook are females.

He said the latest chinook protection measures were developed following consultation with Indigenous communities, recreational and commercial fishing organizations and environmental groups.

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