Emergency Assessment concludes that BC's Interior Steelhead Trout at risk of extinction

Discussion in 'Conservation, Fishery Politics and Management.' started by wildmanyeah, Feb 13, 2018.

  1. OldBlackDog

    OldBlackDog Well-Known Member

    Beyond COSEWIC

    By Bob Hooten

    On Feb 13, 2018 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada (COSEWIC) announced its recommendation stemming from the emergency review of the status of Interior Fraser Steelhead. We’ve known that was coming for several weeks and we’ve been reasonably confident the obvious would prevail. It did. Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead have been assessed as endangered (i.e. they face imminent threat of extirpation) and recommended for listing as such under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA).

    People need to appreciate who this recommendation is coming from. The members of COSEWIC are not some ad hoc group of unknown technicians. They are the equivalent of the gold standard among scientists in this country and they operate under the law of the land. The Canadian public can have the utmost confidence its conservation interests are well served by COSEWIC.

    On surface the COSEWIC recommendation is the tool that will dramatically alter the course of the primary, controllable force responsible for the endangered status – the commercial and First Nations fisheries operating along the steelhead migration routes approaching the Fraser River and within the river itself. Lest anyone be under illusions here, the COSEWIC/SARA process needs to be examined more closely.

    Let me begin with two quotes taken directly from SARA documents:

    1. …..the government of Canada is committed to conserving biological diversity and to the principle that, if there are threats of serious or irreversible damage to a wildlife species, cost-effective measures to prevent the loss or reduction of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.
    2. This is in keeping with the Supreme Court’s articulation of the precautionary principle: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental regulation.”

    On with a critical review of what we are looking at in months and years ahead. What I refer to in the material that follows comes directly from a presentation given by the Regional Manager of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Species At Risk Program, at the “Forum on Conservation and Harvest Planning for Fraser Salmon” in Richmond on Jan 23, 2018. Such a recent summary by someone so close to the process was a perfect source to illustrate what a COSEWIC recommendation means. For those concerned I am unfairly treating or misrepresenting the material presented, I invite you to review the full presentation.

    http://frafs.ca/sites/default/files2/SARA Listing - Fraser Salmon Forum 2018-01-23_0.pdf

    Here are the highlights and milestones as they pertain to the Interior Fraser Steelhead (lets just refer to them as Thompson steelhead).

    1. The COSEWIC recommendation for an emergency listing as “endangered” now rests with Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The law says the Minister has 90 days to decide if there is an imminent threat and, if so, make a recommendation to the federal Cabinet to confirm the endangered listing under SARA……….but the Minister must consult with DFO and form an opinion based on that consultation, as well as the COSEWIC assessment.
    2. If those Thompson fish survive that process and do get listed, there will be a further assessment conducted by COSEWIC to either confirm its listing or to remove it from the list. That takes one year.
    3. If the endangered listing is upheld, automatic prohibitions apply (i.e. killing, harming, harassing, capturing of Thompson steelhead would be forbidden) but not before a recovery strategy and action plan is developed and critical habitat defined. The latter is habitat necessary for survival and recovery of the species.
    4. If the endangered listing is not confirmed, the consequences are essentially what we have in place today. In other words, write those Thompson steelhead off.
    5. The listing process “must be informed by the best available information.” That entails development of a consultation plan that incorporates existing advisory processes, governance processes, consultation planning and communications. (Starting to sound familiar?)
    6. The anticipated timelines described by our DFO Manager in that Jan 23 presentation is where we start to understand what those Thompson fish face. To begin with, Thompson steelhead were included in her presentation but not in the context of any timetable. We can figure some of that out, though, by referencing other stocks of salmon recently classed as endangered. Those 8 Fraser sockeye stocks that were recently added to the list will not be the subject of that obligatory Federal Cabinet decision until 2022. The pathway to that point calls for recovery potential assessment, proposed management scenarios, socio-economic analysis, consultation on listing approach and, finally, a listing recommendation. If Thompson steelhead are not even included on the DFO timeline chart yet I think it reasonable to assume it wouldn’t be until at least 2022 that we would see the endangered listing that would kick in those items described in #3 above. Then there would be that additional time involved in those requirements.

    All things considered, there can be no mistaking that Thompson steelhead are not going to receive treatment substantially different over the next several years than they have in the past four or five. Extirpation would seem to be unavoidable if due process is followed. How else can any reasonably informed person interpret the circumstances described herein?

    No doubt there will those who defend process as the only game in town. To that I’ll add some further advice that originates from an article published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (probably the most respected journal of fisheries science in the western world). (Missing the safety net: evidence for inconsistent and insufficient management of at-risk marine fishes in Canada Jamie Marie McDevitt-Irwin, Susanna Drake Fuller, Catharine Grant, and Julia Kathleen Baum Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 72: 1–13 (2015)).

    Here is the quote from that paper that tells us what we need to know:

    “Overall, at-risk marine fishes typically spend 3.25 years under consideration for SARA, during which time they receive no additional protection. Endangered and Threatened marine fishes (i.e., those most at risk) face the greatest bias and receive the least protection; their SARA decisions are typically delayed, with almost 5 years usually passing between their COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) assessment and listing decision; most (70.6%) are then denied listing, after which the Fisheries Act provides few of the SARA-required measures. For SARA-listed marine fishes, recovery strategies are usually late and to date no action plans have been produced. Marine fish conservation is hindered by SARA’s slow pace, incomplete recovery measures, and inadequate implementation of the Fisheries Act.”

    The other points of note in this paper were the authors’ condemnation of Integrated Fisheries Management Planning (IFMP) processes and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification process whereby fisheries like the Fraser chum fishery are green stamped as “sustainable”. The authors state plainly that MSC in particular has a responsibility to ensure certified fisheries are not endangering species at risk. Remember, in the context of Thompson steelhead, the province is a major player in the MSC game through its Ministry of Agriculture (fish processor licensing agency and seafood marketing agency) interface with DFO as the provincial voice of steelhead. You can get a sense of what that is all about by reading my post of Jan 22 (Against All Odds – The Future of Thompson Steelhead in the Balance).
  2. OldBlackDog

    OldBlackDog Well-Known Member

    Where to from here? If we allow the COSEWIC and SARA agenda to be followed as it is best understood today we deserve what we get. Here’s some alternatives to think about.

    1. IFMPs and SFAB forums are useless from a steelhead perspective. If anyone can offer evidence of steelhead ever being accommodated in any significant way through either one of those DFO forums, provide your comments here. The people I know who have made a significant effort to assess the efficacy of these consultative processes share my view enough is enough. Its time to abandon the addiction of process and send a strong signal to the convening agency.
    2. Demand your elected provincial and federal government representatives pay attention to Thompson steelhead. In terms of steelhead in British Columbia, they represent the canary in the coal mine. Remind our politicians at every opportunity these fish face extinction on their watch. Forget the usual polite letters that rarely, if ever, receive a response that obligates the sender to actually do something. Demand face to face sessions and attend them armed with penetrating questions. Demand answers.
    3. Use social media at every opportunity to drive the message home. Thompson steelhead are an iconic internationally revered treasure that represent an important component of the lifestyle and social fabric of this country. We will not stand idle and witness them relegated to photo albums. The fact that there was an emergency assessment conducted by COSEWIC was, in no small part, the result of noise coming from deeply concerned lay persons. If there is one thing our elected representatives pay attention to it is criticism directed at them though mainstream and social media. The more, the merrier.
    4. Invest in lawyers instead of process. There are measures afoot to engage legal experts to test DFO’s legal obligations under SARA. The principle actors involve a coalition of the four main steelhead advocacy groups in BC plus two other conservation focused organizations with extensive experience in the political arena. Watch for more from them in days ahead.
  3. Derby

    Derby Well-Known Member


    It Shouldn’t Be This Hard
    by Bob Hooton

    Ever since the current British Columbia government took office and got itself organized in mid-2017 the steelhead advocacy community has been vociferous in its push for clarity on the question of which of its Cabinet Ministers spoke for steelhead? For those not familiar with the British Columbia and Canadian government linkages and problems therein, here’s a simplified picture.

    The Federal Government voice for steelhead is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. That organization has domain over steelhead in tidal waters which, of course, includes all the commercial fisheries that intercept steelhead bound for rivers such as the Thompson, Dean and Skeena. DFO also leads all decision making regarding First Nations fisheries, both in tidal and non-tidal waters. The provincial government is responsible for the freshwater recreational fishery only. However, the steelhead jurisdiction issue is confused by a provincial government decision of 1999 that gave one of its Ministries (the Ministry of Agriculture or MAg) command of all interaction with DFO on the commercial fishery steelhead interception file. That agreement remains in effect and it is the one now targeted by the steelhead advocacy community. MAg is responsible for licensing all the processors of commercially caught fish and also for marketing seafood (including farmed fish). That leaves the other provincial agency (Ministry of Forests Lands Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development or FLNRORD) to deal with the steelhead that make it beyond the nets and enter the non-tidal waters recreational fisheries upstream. Neither of the two provincial agencies has any role in FN fisheries that have grown dramatically in recent years. Remember that point in particular when contemplating the discussion below.

    Numerous letters have been written to the highest levels in the provincial government over the past many months. The consistent theme has been to establish FLNRORD (or, better yet, a new derivative of it) be confirmed as the one and only voice for steelhead provincially. In other words, get out of town MAg! I should add that MAg is a co-conspirator with DFO in sanctioning the fisheries targeting Fraser River chum as “sustainable” under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification process. Think about that in the context of the endangered status of Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead that are clearly the victims of the net fisheries focused on chums being harvested purely for their roe. Most of those nets are no longer being fished by licensed commercial fishing vessels.

    With all this firmly in mind, there was a milestone exchange in the provincial legislature in Victoria yesterday. It focuses on the Thompson/Chilcotin steelhead crisis of the moment, justifiably, but it brackets the pervasive issues above equally. Thankfully it is all on YouTube so I don’t have to say anything more than the clip itself does. Have a look and read on afterward.


    There is was, finally. The FLNRORD Minister responding to the question of who speaks for steelhead answered plainly – “I do”. Sounds good, right? But, notice the recommendation to Minister Donaldson that his companion agency, MAg, rescind its support for the MSC certification of the chum fishery as sustainable. That point was carefully avoided in Donaldson’s response. Note also the references to the FN chiefs up in the Thompson River country. What about the 14 FNs between the mouth of the river and Yale, far downstream from the Thompson, where all the damage to steelhead is really being done? Then there is the same old same old implication that it’s the commercial fishery that is solely responsible for the endangered status of those Interior Fraser Steelhead. Personally, I’m growing weary of that naivety (negligence?). Here’s some clarification around that. It comes from a presentation made by a senior member of DFO’s Conservation and Protection Division (i.e. the fish cops) to an assemblage known as “The Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat” one month ago.

    The most interesting item in the early going of the presentation was the rationale for increased DFO enforcement presence during the Johnstone Strait chum fishery. That was all about demonstrating a defensible compliance rate for that fishery lest the MSC certification of that fishery be placed under the microscope. To quote the presentation: “Will provide a defensible compliance rate for this fishery which assist with MSC certification and make increase market price” (grammar exactly as it appeared). By the way, the compliance inspections for those Johnstone Strait fisheries indicated 32 of 69 seines exhibited issues sufficient for warnings, if not charges. For gill netters the figure was 122 of 129 inspections. Good luck steelhead!

    As for the remainder of the report, here are a few highlights based on the breakdown of enforcement effort, in hours, expended by DFO officers in the three areas of concern to Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead - the South Coast, the Lower Fraser and the Interior Fraser. The figures were organized for individual fisheries each year between 2014 and 2017. There was no information presented to allow me to translate hours of patrol effort into something more instructive like man days or person years. The hours figures left me thinking there would have been a lot of time between patrols or, in other words, more days that weren’t patrolled than were.

    1. Fisheries that are exclusive to First Nations received the lowest level of enforcement monitoring in 2017 relative to any other year..

    2. Recreational fisheries in the lower Fraser River received five times as much enforcement patrol effort as did commercial fisheries.

    3. Over 100 illegal gill nets were seized by DFO officers patrolling the lower Fraser in 2017. I’ll go out on a limb here and assume the large majority of those nets were set by FN fishers. The fact that no charges were referenced for those seizures lends support to my assumption. There were 69 recreational anglers charged for fishing with barbed hooks over the same areas and times.

    4. Ninety illegal gill nets were seized by DFO officers patrolling the Fraser between Chilliwack and Hells Gate. Apparently 15 of these seizures resulted in charges but there was no mention of consequences.

    5. DFO noted that compliance among Interior Fraser First Nations was “relatively good for the sockeye fishery except for one community near Lillooet that protested and harvested approximately 13,000 summer run sockeye.” There was no mention of any consequences there either. One wonders how many Chilcotin steelhead may have ended up dead in this fishery.

    6. Finally, and most importantly, here we had a senior DFO Conservation and Protection Division staff member at the podium addressing The Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat right in the thick of the emergency review of the status of those endangered Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead and the word steelhead never appears in his 32 slide Power Point presentation.

    One thing is certain from all of the above. The parts are not connected either within or between governments. How much of that is deliberate and how much is senior officials in both camps not being properly informed is perhaps debateable. Either way, a British Columbia treasure is being victimized.

    Bob Hooton | February 20, 2018 at 5:46 pm | URL: https://wp.me/p7Sp4e-dE


    See all comments
    wildmanyeah likes this.
  4. wildmanyeah

    wildmanyeah Well-Known Member

    Steelhead face the problem that all
    Mix stock fishery’s have. The dominant species gets fished and the one that is co migrating in small numbers gets decimated.

    Fraser river chinook summer run is a good example of this. It’s numbers have been increasing from the 70 and 80”s mainly due to less and and less sockeye fishery’s during their migration.

    But what can you do stop all fishery’s that intercept them from area 12, right to their spawning grounds.

    And we all know the biggest problem thoes FN nets aren’t going anywhere.

    So good buy steelhead
  5. Derby

    Derby Well-Known Member

    there need to go to a selective fishery only .. shared pen traps on the Fraser there was a reason they were out lawed before.. the species at risk can now be released and it can be easily monitored... the accountably is now there.... a good start

Share This Page