Chinooks, whales and sturgeon

If we ever needed a reminder about the intricacies and interdependency of our eco-systems, last week’s news about B.C.’s threatened or endangered chinook salmon is that reminder.

Chinook have traditionally been THE salmon - prized by anglers, revered by Indigenous peoples and a key part of the food chain in Canada’s Pacific province.

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Last week’s announcement means it’s not only the chinook who are facing challenges to their survival. A test fishery for chinook earlier this year raised concerns for the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales who rely on the big fish for their survival.

The Government of Canada announced in May a reduction in harvest of chinook by roughly one-third and closures in some key whale foraging areas after declaring the Southern Resident Killer Whales are facing an imminent threat to their survival. The population of southern residents is estimated to have dropped to just 74 whales. The population has not produced any surviving calves since 2015.

The federal government acknowledges that lack of prey is one of the critical factors affecting the whales’ recovery.

Will the government now impose a complete closure on chinook fisheries, in order to protect them and the whales?

In the midst of the dismal news about the chinook, it was heartening to hear updates on the mid-Fraser sturgeon fishery at the DFO’s recent consultation meeting in Lillooet.

Thanks to the efforts of folks such as Conservation Officer Bob Butcher, the Lillooet Naturalist Society, sturgeon charter companies, guides and fishers, it appears the sturgeon population in the mid-Fraser is healthy and viable. Because of their efforts, DFO now has years of credible data on the local sturgeon population. More research will be needed on these fascinating creatures, but this is a good start.

Kudos too, to Steve Alain for the leadership and stewardship he has shown with the Lillooet Sturgeon Committee.

W.F.

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