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Angered anglers protest catch-and-release chinook rules in North Vancouver

Charter fisherman says at-risk stocks made up less than one per cent of chinook caught around the province in 2018
Chinook Protest

This article has been amended since first posting to include a response from Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

A government decision to restrict fishing for at-risk Fraser River chinook salmon has sparked a passionate response from recreational anglers.       

On Wednesday, throngs of demonstrators gathered outside the Lower Lonsdale constituency office of Fisheries Minister and North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson to show their dismay and ensure their voices were heard.

“Their idea of addressing the problem is one announcement, and it’s a real lack of action,” said Dave Brown, a recreational angler who helped organize the event. “This protest is drawing attention to the closure of this core fishery, but also the enormous lack of meaningful action by this department to recover salmon populations, and in particular these early Fraser timed chinook.”

The mandatory catch-and-release fishery for sport and recreational anglers was implemented on April 16 and will be in place until July 31. Beyond that, anglers will be restricted to one chinook per day. Chinook fishing in the Fraser River will be prohibited until at least late August.   

The decision was made by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in an effort to conserve chinook stocks. However, members of B.C.’s fishing community are questioning the move.

“What we feel is it’s a political manoeuvre to appear that the Fisheries Minister and the department are actually doing something on chinook recovery, when they’re failing to address a number of factors that are impacting chinook salmon and specifically these stocks of concern.” explained Brown.

Dave Brown
Recreational angler and protest organizer Dave Brown addresses fellow demonstrators outside Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson's constituency office in Lower Lonsdale Wednesday. photo Josh Kilner, North Shore News

Brown points to climate change, the agricultural extraction of water, and the reduction of hatchery smolts as additional factors impacting at-risk stocks. He stressed that the decision will also have negative socioeconomic impacts on B.C.’s small coastal communities.

“What the government fails to recognize is the people in these communities are passionate, they care about their wild salmon,” said Brown.

Jason Assonitis, the owner of Bon Chovy Salmon Fishing Charters, told the North Shore News that he expects to lose 50 to 60 per cent of his business as a result of this decision.

“He (the minister) is painting all the chinook stocks with just one brush, when we’re talking about one distinct stock. There’s a whole bunch of stocks that are doing well, and that’s where the recreational sector had options to target these fish.” said Assonitis.

“You have spinoffs; from hotels, to boat dealerships, to mechanics, it’s not just us, there’s a whole carryover effect. One fishing charter off two people can be up to $20,000 in revenue they’re spending, just to catch one hatchery fish. But the government said no.” 

According to Assonitis, less than one per cent of the chinook caught last year around the province were part of the at-risk stock.  

“A group of us has been dedicated to DNA sampling for over six years now, and we have the data. When the federal government says we’re doing this based on science, we’re calling them out and saying ‘you’re not’. We are the ones that help get all this data.”

Chinook Protest Graph
A graph put together by anglers involved in DFO data collection illustrates the catch of Georgia Strait south chinook in 2018. image provided

Response from the DFO 

In an emailed statement to the North Shore News, Wilkinson stated that he made the difficult decision after extensive consultation, and a thorough review of scientific evidence. 

"As Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Canadians expect me to make my decisions based on science and evidence, and ensure these endangered wild chinook stocks survive," stated Wilkinson. "The restrictions were mindful of what we have heard from recreational and commercial fisheries stakeholders."