July 17, 2014 11:59 pm

Conservationists push for stock selective salmon fishing in B.C.

The way the majority of our salmon are commercially harvested involves large open-nets, and the goal is to catch the healthy populations and the leave the struggling runs alone. But this method makes that goal nearly impossible, according to several conservation groups.

Now those groups are calling on the government to move faster on establishing ‘stock selective salmon fishing’ in rivers. The method, which has been used in B.C. for centuries, allows fishermen to isolate runs rather than netting both healthy and endangered stocks out in the open water.

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The problem, which is addressed in a recent video by the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, arises because the stocks of fish (both endangered and healthy salmon) are mixed, making it difficult to distinguish when fishing at sea. By the time the salmon are caught and separated, the endangered fish often end up dead.

To move away from the open-net method, Greg Knox, executive director of Skeena Wild says, there needs to be more of a  focus on fishing in “areas where only healthy stocks are being harvested [since] we can catch just as many fish, while allowing endangered stocks to rebuild.”

Those fishery stocks often take place closer to the spawning grounds of the healthy abundant runs, which are usually in rivers and lakes, according to Aaron Hill, an ecologist with Watershed Watch.

These fishing grounds allow the salmon to start to separate themselves as they head back to their ‘home’ streams, which makes it easier to target specific populations. It’s a form of sustainable fishing the First Nations have been practicing for thousands of years.

Now many conservationists believe it is time to bring it back and the government does not disagree.

“The federal fisheries department has said that they’re in favour of transferring some of this fishery effort from the marine area into the rivers and lakes,” Hill says. “And there are incentives in place but we want to see more incentives and the process is taking a long time.”

The Department of Fisheries was not available to explain what would be involved, how the transfer of commercial licenses and compensation would work.

Knox says by releasing the video and “by explaining these simple facts to the public, we’re hoping to increase consumer demand for fish that have been harvested in truly sustainable fisheries.”

For more information, head to the Watershed Watch website.

~ with files from Linda Aylesworth

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