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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The Fraser River at Island 22 Regional Park. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Just Posted

Ktunaxa, supporters celebrate protection of Qat’muk and the Jumbo valley

Speeches, acknowledgements and ceremonies mark an emotional gathering in Cranbrook

Town of Creston purchases land for new fire hall

Referendum in October 2018 approved borrowing maximum $4.5M for Creston emergency services building

Creston high school photography students hosting show and silent auction

Nearly two dozen Prince Charles Secondary School students will have work in Jan. 24 show

Residents offer Town of Creston input on future of reservoir land

Former open water reservoirs north of Creston’s 23rd and 24th avenues currently closed to the public

Jumbo Valley to be protected, ending decades-long dispute over proposed ski resort

Development rights permanently retired for site of proposed year-round ski resort west of Invermere

After cashing in on QB gambles, Chiefs and 49ers to clash in Super Bowl

KC beats Tennessee, San Francisco dispatches Green Bay to reach NFL title game

How to beat Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year

Multiple factors can play a role in seasonal depression, says Fraser Health psychiatrist

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

Victoria family focuses on ‘letting go, enjoying time together’ after dad gets dementia

Walter Strauss has developed an interest in music and now takes line dancing classes

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in downtown Smithers

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

UBC, Iranian-Canadian community create memorial scholarship in honour of victims

The Jan. 8 crash killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians

Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief

Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs

Most Read