DFO: The Problem and the Potential Solution
The Department of Fisheries & Oceans is the Federal government agency responsible for fisheries related matters. In the Skeena steelhead issue they are at once both the problem and the possible solution. It is their management regime that inflicts the negative impacts on valuable Skeena steelhead and it is their intransigence to act on addressing the problem that continues the controvery.
Unfortunately, we are in an era where the Department of Fisheries & Oceans thinks the present situation with regard to steelhead interception is completely acceptable. The Department has adopted the approach that steelhead are not a conservation concern and therefore the present management regime is totally adequate in terms of considerations towards steelhead. NCSA obviously disagrees vehemently with this perspective from the Department. NCSA feels the Department is just continuing its long history of single minded focus on the commercial fishing industry and neglecting to consider other factors such as the biodiversity of the steelhead stocks, the economic value of steelhead, and the economic contribution of the sportfishing tourism industry that relies on steelhead.
The DFO position with regard to steelhead is easy to see given their longterm sympathetic relationship with the commercial industry dating back to the late 1800’s. Add in the fact that the North Coast office is based in Prince Rupert a longterm hub of commercial fishing activity. Further add in the fact that Prince Rupert and the commercial fishing industry has been on a downward economic spiral for decades with depressed markets, chronic unemployment, and general ‘hard times’ and you are left with a recipe for Federal institutional inertia, as one recent author described the situation. DFO, once primarily a facilitator of commercial fishing has now morphed into the realm of providing social welfare by continuing to support uneconomic commercial activities long past the time where regular market forces would have rendered most of the fishing fleets redundant.
NCSA feels the main issue facing steelhead and steelhead advocates today is the intransigence of the management agency to consider any other uses of this public fishery resource other than commercial extraction. DFO is still trapped in the archaic perspective, ingrained over 100 years of facilitating commercial fisheries, that commercial fishing is to be the primary focus of their efforts. One need look no further than their name: the Department of FISHERIES says it all. The focus is on fisheries not fish and anything that gets in the way of providing ‘fisheries’ is deemed not worthy of consideration.
Unfortunately, DFO not only facilitates the monopolization of a public resource by one sector, that is barely viable in most years and that also relies on public subsidy to produce the very fish they catch, but actively assists in the undermining of a more productive sector by adopting and implementing policies which have negative impacts on steelhead.
The proof of this neglectful DFO policy can be found in their north coast fishery management of 2011, a year in which we saw DFO completely marginalize steelhead concerns and allow 18 days of non-selective gillnet fishing in Areas 3 & 4. Not surprisingly, upriver early steelhead fishing reflected these impacts and was generally poor throughout the system.
The challenge for steelhead advocates going forward will be to convince the Federal Government and politicians of the value of Skeena steelhead. We need to continue to educate the politicians that a major paradigm shift has occurred whereby commercial fishing is not the main economic engine of this fishery regime anymore. We need to convince the politicians and bureaucrats that recreational fishing and the associated tourism industry have surpassed the values provided to society by subsidized pillage of Skeena sockeye by commercial fishermen. We need to take the management decision to marginalize steelhead and the sportfishery out of the DFO bureaucrats hands by having our elected politicains tell them to change the way they manage the fishery. From local town mayors and councillors to Provincial Legislators to Federam Parliamentarians we need to push them to ensure our vocie, and the steelhead’s voice is heard.
However, relief is in their grasp if they simply implement measures that simply reflect their own existing policy papers to move towards truly selective fishing and away from non-selective fishing techniques.
The greatest threat to Skeena steelhead is currently the DFO management regime and the various commercial net fisheries. Close behind is the indifference of the federal management agency (DFO) with regard to the value of Skeena steelhead compared to the value generated by barely viable non-selective fisheries. Many other issues pose serious threats including; Alaskan interception, proposed oil and gas developments, proposed coastal oil tanker traffic, various mining projects, and poor logging practices.