A program created to sustain B.C.'s $8.3-billion sport fishing industry amid widespread fishing closures is under fire from environmentalists and some First Nations concerned it is harming threatened wild chinook salmon.

Unlike previous rules that let anglers keep whatever fish they caught during an opening, the so-called "mark-selective fishery" program only lets them keep hatchery-raised chinook. Wild fish must be released so they can spawn, passing on their ecologically important genetic diversity and sustaining future runs.

Chinook are ecologically vital and culturally important for many First Nations, but some stocks have seen dramatic population declines in recent years. Out of 29 chinook stocks assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, only two are considered "not at risk."

In theory, the hatchery-raised fish are easy to identify because they are marked, meaning their adipose fin — an unused fin on their back — was removed before the fish were released. But unlike in the U.S., where marking is mandatory, only about 10 per cent of Canadian hatcheries mark their fish.

Without marks on all of Canada's hatchery fish, it is impossible to figure out without genetic testing which of the fish swimming and spawning in B.C. waters are actually wild. That makes it hard to know how many wild fish are being caught by anglers and whether those released manage to spawn.

Currently, the bulk of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' (DFO) information about the fishery comes from anglers themselves voluntarily reporting their catch. Because it relies on individuals to faithfully report, the approach provides the agency with minimal data about fish that are caught and released, which studies show are more likely to die. And because not all fins are removed from fish raised in hatcheries, it’s impossible to tell which of the fish caught and released come from endangered stocks.

"We don't know what the impacts are," said Gordon Sterritt, executive director of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Alliance, a coalition of First Nations working to protect salmon and Indigenous fisheries in the river's headwaters, which are some of the most vulnerable runs in the province. "Data is key. Without that data, we cannot make an informed decision."

Despite the concerns, in 2021, DFO piloted mark-selective fisheries proposed by the province's sport fishing lobby in a handful of bays in southern B.C.

The decision was not well received by some First Nations, who believed DFO was favouring the fishing industry over salmon conservation. Their concerns arose after reviewing a trove of internal documents that showed DFO helped sport fishing lobbyists craft the proposal even as the nations say they struggled to obtain the same fisheries data the sport industry used in the proposal.

A program created to sustain B.C.'s $8.3-billion sport fishing industry amid widespread fishing closures is under fire from environmentalists and some First Nations concerned it is harming threatened wild chinook salmon. 

In a statement, the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C., a lobby group closely linked to the team that developed the proposal, said it "is in full support" of the 2020 proposal for a mark-selective fishery in southern B.C. waters jointly developed by the industry and DFO. The now-retired senior DFO biologist who helped design the program said there was nothing unusual about working with outside groups on fishery programs.

Frustrations were reignited this spring after DFO announced it would expand the fishery to much of the Salish Sea and parts of coastal Vancouver Island without offering data to back the decision.

Without those measures, the fishery is mostly "public relations" that justify a recreational fishery while trying to appease critics, said Greg Taylor, a biologist with salmon conservation group Watershed Watch. "It doesn't have any real controls and it doesn't have the necessary monitoring."

DFO did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

A glance across the U.S. border to Washington state shows how the fishery could be run. In addition to marking all their fish, he explained that Americans and tribes in Washington state have developed an independent monitoring system for the fishery that does not run on an honour system. They also have more measures to close the fishery during the season if needed, Taylor said.

A similar system is possible in B.C., he said, but achieving it will take cash and collaboration, both resources in short supply, he said.

Marking every fish that leaves a Canadian hatchery — an approach that could cost millions — and developing an independent monitoring system for the fishery would help appease environmentalists' and some of the First Nations' concerns. But DFO has been reluctant to spend the money, Taylor said.

His organization and several First Nations have tried to collaborate with the sport fishing industry and DFO to share the costs of running this type of fishery. So far, they've been unsuccessful, but he sees few other options that put neither fish nor the fishery on the line.

"If we're all at the table pulling in the same direction, I think we can create this," he said. "This is the time to have approaches that allow food fisheries and recreational fisheries to be successful within the context of climate change."

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I have been involved in the salmon fishery for more than 65 years, both in the commercial and the sports/commercial as well as for pleasure. During that time I have worked as the liaison between Guiding associations and DFO. For the last 30 years, ever since the coho stock crash, we have been asking DFO why ALL hatchery fish aren’t marked, since it would make life MUCH easier for everyone combined. The answer I always got from those who worked for DFO but were not authorized to speak for them, was, “they don’t want to spend the money”.
From my experience the mind set of DFO is still commercial fishing with sports fishing g as an afterthought. They really don’t like having to deal with or work with the sport angling groups or First Nations, and do as little as possible to calm the voices of the loudest groups just to make them shut up and go away. One need on,y look at just how far DFO went to support and protect Fish Farms to see that they ONLY care about commercial fishing, the money that brings into the economy and the jobs it supports.. They have consistently ignored evidence that shows them just how valuable the sports fishing industry is and how many jobs that supports!

As their was no source given for the statement, "[a] program created to sustain B.C.'s $8.3-billion sport fishing industry", I'd like to ask for the source and some substantiation of the number.

I hope this is not another case of CNO accepting, at face value and without corroboration, industry-provided numbers.

Compare the 8.3 number with numbers in a 2021 BC gov't report on the forest products industry:

2021 Economic State of British Columbia's Forest Sector https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/farming-natural-resources-and-industry...

Genetic testing? Wasn't the original roe collected from wild salmon? Or was that wild salmon from somewhere else?
As far as sport fishing goes, it's legislated profit from torturing animals. Catch and release means injure and release. Open injuries, generally, make animals more susceptible to infection, and is stressful in and of itself.
As far as the vestigial nature of the adipose fin goes, it's about as vestigial as tonsils or a sense of smell: we can get along without them, but not without negative effects.

From wikipedia:
"The function of the adipose fin is something of a mystery. It is frequently clipped off to mark hatchery-raised fish, though data from 2005 showed that trout with their adipose fin removed have an 8% higher tailbeat frequency.[4][5] Additional information released in 2011 has suggested that the fin may be vital for the detection of, and response to, stimuli such as touch, sound and changes in pressure. Canadian researchers identified a neural network in the fin, indicating that it likely has a sensory function, but are still not sure exactly what the consequences of removing it are.[6][7]
A comparative study in 2013 indicates the adipose fin can develop in two different ways. One is the salmoniform-type way, where the adipose fin develops from the larval-fin fold at the same time and in the same direct manner as the other median fins. The other is the characiform-type way, where the adipose fin develops late after the larval-fin fold has diminished and the other median fins have developed. They claim the existence of the characiform-type of development suggests the adipose fin is not "just a larval fin fold remainder" and is inconsistent with the view that the adipose fin lacks function.[3]"

Anything that makes a creature work 8% harder takes 8% more energy at least (evolution tends to optimize), and is bound to reduce its stress tolerance.

So let them farm fish inland, in self-contained environments. Not in oceans. That might well rule out fish with both fresh water and salt water phases, but they can just use more of the hormones and hormone mimickers that are already used in hatcheries. I know about that from someone who was "hormone injured" when working in one where gloves weren't provided to protect the workers who handled the hatchlings.