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Chinook recovery must trump fisheries, conservationists say

Mar 24 2012

Sports anglers should look at the bigger picture before refusing to accept further restrictions on the summer chinook fishery, conservation groups say.

Conservation must come before the interests of any fishing sector, whether recreational, First Nations or commercial, said Aaron Hill of Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

"If we want to get these populations on the road to recovery, we have to ensure that we get as many fish back on the spawning grounds as possible," Hill said.

"Any harvesting sector who refuses to comply with necessary conservation measures does not deserve any fish at all and violations of conservation-based fishing regulations should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Southern Vancouver Island sports fishers met this week with Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials, who are trying to come up with a plan to protect Fraser River chinook stocks that are expected to have low returns this year.

The Juan de Fuca fishery takes some chinook from poor runs and some from more abundant runs.

But recreational fishers said they agreed to restrictions two years ago and any further cuts would destroy the southern Vancouver Island fishing and related tourism industry.

The 400 people who attended the meeting with DFO unanimously passed a motion not to accept further restrictions until DFO comes up with a recovery plan that includes habitat restoration and a hatchery enhancement program.

Hill said he is a recreational fisher and appreciates the hardship of further restrictions.

"But these scofflaws do not speak for me," he said.

Christianne Wilhelmson, Georgia Strait Alliance executive director, said everyone who benefits from healthy chinook stocks should be willing to share shortterm pain to ensure there are enough fish in the future for people, whales and other animals that rely on good chinook runs.

"It's all of us. No one expects one sector to take the whole burden," she said.

Sports fishermen should look for creative solutions instead of making inflammatory statements, said Wilhelmson, who added that she appreciates the relationship between DFO and harvesting sectors can be strained.

"Maybe they can go to a slightly different area and fish for pinks," she said.

"We are living in such a stressful time for salmon stocks."

Another looming problem which could face fishers is that studies show endangered southern resident killer whales rely largely on a diet of chinook salmon and, for the orca population to recover, they need sufficient chinook.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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