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The federal government is failing to protect endangered salmon in British Columbia by imposing “draconian” fishing limits on public fisheries in some regions while still allowing fish to be caught on the Fraser River, says the BC Wildlife Federation.

And the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is relying on fishing limits as a management strategy instead of coming up with much-needed conservation plans, the group maintains.

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“The Government of Canada and DFO has no plan to restore or recover these populations, instead choosing to change the fishing regulations,” BC Wildlife Federation president Bill Bosch said in a June 30 letter to federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan.

“If extreme conservation measures are truly the issue, then all fisheries, including commercial and First Nations [Food, Social and Ceremonial], should be curtailed,” the letter adds.

The BC Wildlife Federation was writing in response to restrictions announced on June 19, when the DFO announced management measures for Fraser River chinook salmon, which are under threat from factors including habitat loss, climate change and a Fraser River landslide in 2019 that prevented thousands of fish from getting upstream. Of the 13 wild Fraser River chinook populations assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), only one is not at risk.

The new measures impose catch limits and size restrictions in several areas and put chinook fishing in parts of Howe Sound and Burrard Inlet off-limits until August 31. Recreational fisheries on the Fraser River will be closed until November 1. In announcing the restrictions, the DFO said the measures would “support the recovery of at-risk Fraser River chinook populations, as well as protect the jobs and communities that depend on chinook.”

Critics said the fishing restrictions are not based on scientific evidence and will hurt some fishing sectors, including recreational anglers and the businesses that depend on them.

“There’s a real concern that access to fishing opportunities is being taken away from the public,” Dave Brown, spokesman for the Public Fishery Alliance, a group formed this year to push for revised fishing policies.

The group plans a rally at the Vancouver office of the DFO on Monday.

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The federal Fisheries Minister was not available for an interview.

In an e-mailed statement from her office, Ms. Jordan said Fraser River chinook are “in the midst of a steep decline” and that the fisheries restrictions were part of a broader plan to protect and restore fish populations.

“These measures were not taken lightly,” the statement said.

“They were made after extensive consultation with industry representatives, scientists, conservationists, and Indigenous peoples, because our government fully understands the economic and social impacts these measures will have. They include additional restrictions to strengthen conservation as well as the flexibility needed where impacts to stocks of concern will be very low,” the statement added.

Worries over chinook and other salmon stocks have increased after the 2019 landslide. That Fraser River slide is believed to have occurred in late 2018 but was not reported to authorities until June, 2019, when some fish were on their way up the river back to spawning grounds. It resulted in a co-ordinated response by the DFO, First Nations and the provincial government to clear the river so fish could get through.

Earlier this month, officials with Fisheries and Oceans Canada told a House of Commons committee that 99 per cent of early Stuart and 89 per cent of early chinook salmon were lost in 2019 because of the slide.

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They reported that about 60,000 fish were helped over the slide last year, while 220,000 made it past on their own once water volume dropped.

Those efforts continue and this year include a so-called “fish cannon” to help fish make their way past the slide.

With files from The Canadian Press

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