The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has confirmed isolated incidents of illegal retention of Fraser River sockeye during First Nation food, social and ceremonial fisheries.
This year’s Fraser River sockeye returns are the lowest on record, prompting a complete closure on all fishing for sockeye.
However, some chinook fishing was allowed for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Sockeye that are caught as bycatch are supposed to be thrown back alive.
Catch records for August 19 show that some sockeye caught incidentally in chinook fisheries were indeed returned. But in a few cases, sockeye were retained.
In one case, in a fishery in the area known as Texas to Deadman, 4,614 sockeye were retained in an FSC chinook fishery. The illegal retention is being investigated, according to DFO.
“The department is aware of some illegal fishing and salmon retention activity in the Lytton/Lillooet area of B.C.’s Fraser Canyon, despite strict closures in place during late August,” Lara Sloan, a DFO spokesperson, said in an emailed response to questions from Business in Vancouver.
“Fishery officers around the province liaise with Indigenous communities in their area to create mutual understanding and respect while building long-term relationships to promote shared stewardship and support the Government of Canada’s commitment to reconciliation.
“However, despite frequent discussions with area First Nations Leadership, members of three area bands decided to harvest salmon despite the restrictions and a significant number of sockeye were caught and retained during this time.”
DFO said there were a number of violations in the Texas Creek area, between Lytton and Lillooet, and Deadman Creek.
“Several individuals were caught with prohibited species retention (sockeye and steelhead) and formal investigations are being pursued,” Sloan said.
“With the very low return, all fisheries on Fraser River Sockeye remain closed. There have been no licenced commercial, recreational, or First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries for Fraser sockeye, in any fisheries this year.
“Any fisheries which may encounter these stocks are required to make all efforts to release sockeye alive and unharmed and all fisheries will be managed to keep Fraser Sockeye impacts to an absolute minimum.”