Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI) 

Backgrounder

The last six years have been the warmest on the planet. The forest fires in British Columbia in 2017 and 2018 burned a record number of hectares. All other factors related to the decline of salmon are embedded in the global climate change driver. We must act now to save Pacific salmon.

The $647 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI) launched by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard on June 8, 2021 is the largest, most transformative investment Canada has made in salmon. It aims to stem the devastating historic declines in key Pacific salmon stocks and rebuild these species to a sustainable level. The Initiative is built on four key pillars:

  • Conservation and stewardship;
  • Enhanced hatchery production;
  • Harvest transformation; and
  • Integrated management and collaboration.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is taking immediate steps under the Harvest transformation pillar, by: implementing extensive closures to commercial salmon fisheries in areas with significant stocks of conservation concern, beginning with the 2021 fishing season; transitioning to a smaller commercial harvesting sector through a salmon licence retirement program, and; consulting with First Nations  harvesters to shift to more selective fishing gear or, where available, to other non-salmon species. 

Salmon Fishery Closures 2021

There are some 138 unique commercial fisheries in British Columbia (B.C.) and Yukon that target all five species of Pacific salmon in different areas. Most use gill net gear, while the remainder use purse seine, troll or other gear (e.g. beach seine, fish wheels):

Seine Net: Seine nets are set from fishing boats with the assistance of a small skiff. Nets are set in a circle around aggregations of fish. The bottom edges of the net are then drawn together into a "purse" to prevent escape of the fish. Seiners take approximately 50% of the commercial catch.

Salmon gill nets: Salmon gill nets are rectangular nets that hang in the water and are set from either the stern or bow of the vessel. Fish swim headfirst into the net, entangling their gills in the mesh. Altering mesh size and the way in which nets are suspended in the water allows nets to target certain species and sizes of fish. Gill netters generally fish near coastal rivers and inlets, taking about 25% of the commercial catch.

Troll:   Trollers employ hooks and lines which are suspended from large poles extending from the fishing vessel. Altering the type and arrangement of lures used on lines allows various species to be targeted. Trollers catch approximately 25% of the commercial harvest.

Nearly all of these fisheries encounter mixtures of salmon populations—their target species and incidental harvest or by-catch, including stocks of conservation concern. By-catch is the inadvertent harvest of different species. The inadvertent harvest of stocks of concern within the same species (i.e. Cultus Lake Sockeye when harvesting Summer Run Sockeye) is referred to as incidental harvest. Both bycatch and incidental harvest are factored into the development of fishing plans to manage impacts on stocks of concern.

While selective fishing measures to avoid stocks of concern are required in all commercial fisheries, additional commercial closures were considered where stocks of conservation concern could not easily be avoided. This also addresses mortalities from fish that have been released from fishing gear.

The closures include gill net fisheries along with a number of seine and troll fisheries that impact stocks of concern directly or encounter stocks of concern as by-catch. The closures are intended to increase the number of salmon reaching spawning areas. Where commercial fishery closures are in place to conserve specific sockeye, pink and chum salmon stocks, recreational retention fisheries will also be restricted consistent with salmon allocation priorities. However, recreational chinook and coho fisheries have a higher salmon allocation priority and would not be impacted in the same manner.

Based on the 2021 outlook that provides information regarding anticipated returns of salmon stocks, the 79 individual closures (from a maximum of 138) will make the greatest impact on the most fragile stocks of concern. The remaining open fisheries may have sufficient abundance to proceed, while posing a low risk to stocks of concern, however actual returns from each in-season test fishery will determine whether they open. Factors that lessen the impacts of a fishery when it opens include fishing in areas where harvesters can avoid intercepting at-risk salmon stocks, and/or additional measures where it is possible to enhance selectivity of salmon stocks such as dates, shorter duration, and smaller geographic areas. The Department will consult further on long-term conservation measures with First Nations and commercial harvesters prior to the 2022 fishing season.

A full list of fisheries affected in 2021 will also be included in the Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMP), which will soon be available. A Fishery Notice will be posted providing a link to the IFMPs  once they are available in the DFO Library.

Pacific Salmon Commercial Transition Program

Individual Commercial Salmon Licence Holders

The Pacific Salmon Commercial Transition Program is expected to be launched this fall. This initiative responds to many years of requests for assistance from commercial salmon harvesters, as declining Pacific salmon returns have resulted in greatly reduced fishing opportunities and made economic viability in this industry a significant challenge. Over the coming months DFO will be engaging with commercial salmon licence holders to work collaboratively on developing the program, assess the fair market value or their licences and confirm the design of the program.  All commercial salmon licence holders will have an opportunity to participate in this initiative.

In addition to providing licence holders with a key opportunity to exit the industry while receiving a fair market value for their licence, this program will help gradually address factors affecting the long term sustainability of the fisheries by transitioning it to a smaller size. This will support the improved financial viability of fisheries well after the program ends.

Canada will work hand-in-hand with harvesters in the engagement, development, and implementation of this program.  

Communal Commercial Salmon Harvesters

Many First Nations in B.C. and Yukon hold communal commercial salmon licences, providing them commercial access to the fisheries. Consultations will begin in the coming weeks to address the impacts on First Nations economic fisheries due to declining salmon returns. Among the options to be explored are shifting to more selective fishing gear (if possible to avoid stocks of concern) or, where available, to other non-salmon species, such as halibut for example.

The goal is to work collaboratively with each First Nation to understand the interests of their community, and find the right solution that provides continued economic benefits while reducing impacts on wild salmon.

Under PSSI, DFO will also be consulting with First Nations food social, and ceremonial (FSC) fishers on opportunities to transition to more selective fishing approaches and gear where cost may otherwise be a barrier to do so. Supporting selective gear and approaches will contribute to salmon conservation goals and make it easier for First Nation harvesters to engage in food, social and ceremonial fisheries.

June 2021 

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