Don Lambie is fishing for answers.
The Telkwa angler, who has fished the Skeena watershed for over 30 years, recently sent a letter to a number of agencies including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) urging the department to adopt a number of reforms.
In the letter, Lambie says he and many other anglers he has spoken to in the region are confused about how the DFO is utilizing funding to protect salmon in the region.
Through the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) the Province is set to receive up to to $142.85 million over the next five years to “support B.C.’s fish and seafood sector, and to ensure the sustainability of wild Pacific salmon and other B.C. fish stocks.”
However Lambie says for all the money they’ve received, he doesn’t feel it’s being spent well.
“[We] are extremely confused as to what this money is actually being used for aside from litigation and perpetual talks over the same issues with very little movement and just that — talking.
“Steelhead and salmon stocks are at an all-time low and an increase of lost salmon habitats are being added to those lost decades ago.”
Lambie said through conversations with locals and his own experience in the region he has identified a number of strategies he feels would help boost local salmon stocks.
The first is the DFO remove nets — including those at test fisheries as well as inland commercial nets and Indigenous food fishing nets — from the water.
“Pressure must be applied to make sure that none of these nets are in the Skeena River at all in June. Nets from the island fishereies shouldn’t be allowed whatsoever.”
Lambie said he respects the reasoning behind why Indigenous people have enshrined rights to ceremonial fishing but he said dwindling salmon stock numbers mean this should also be “monitored with regards to care and practices.”
“It’s not a time for rights and who was here first,” said Lambie, calling for people to come together over declining salmon stocks.
“We need to be [unified] as one with the sole purpose of restoring and upholding a declining species that we all rely on and [which] many singled out by what ethnicity they are also uphold family traditions with.”
Lambie also would like the DFO to address what he feels are out of control harbour seal populations in the region which he said are having devastating effects on salmon numbers.
“I estimate there’s about 500 seals in the Skeena River, but let’s go on a low estimate — say 200 seals — they’re eating a low average of two salmon per day so that’s 400 salmon a day times thirty, that’s [12,000 a month] on a low estimate,” he has previously told The Interior News.
In an email to The Interior News DFO communications officer Dan Bate said they have no plans to authorize a large-scale cull of seals or sea lions in the area.
“DFO began conducting aerial surveys in British Columbia in the early 1970s to determine harbour seal and sea lion abundance and distribution, and monitor population trends. This work continues today,” the email reads.
“These species were depleted by over-hunting prior to the species being protected in 1970. Seal and sea lion populations then grew exponentially per year during the 1970s and 1980s, but growth rates began to slow in the 1990s for harbour seals, and the population now appears to have stabilized. Sea lion population continues to increase. Both species are believed to be at or slightly above historic norms.”
The email goes on to add DFO is currently reviewing a proposal from the Pacific Balance Pinnipeds Society to create a commercial fishery for pinnipeds under the DFO’s New and Emerging Fisheries Policy. Pinnipeds refer to the seal family. Bate said DFO is currently reviewing the proposal, but at this time there are no plans to authorize such a fishery.
“DFO takes an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries and oceans management to ensure that the best science is reflected, in consideration of the role seals and other marine and aquatic species play in sustaining a healthy and productive aquatic ecosystem.”
Lambie said he has a lot of respect for Indigenous ceremonial harvesting rights and is not trying to discriminate, but rather point out he believes many of the nets used by both Indigenous fisheries and DFO-run test fisheries are having devastating repercussions for salmon stocks in the Skeena watershed.
“In June the steelhead which have spawned in the spring take their journey returning to the ocean. They are referred to as Kelts [and] they are being caught in these nets.
“It is a fact that the DFO has killed over 15,000 steelhead at the Tyee Test Fishery over the last 20 years. This does not include the First Nations nets, commercial inland nets or the mortality from an over-population of harbour seals.”
Lambie added he knows many Indigenous communities who are on board with implementing stricter rules across the board for conservation.
Lambie also feels the DFO should drop saltwater retention limits and restrict access to the area to international anglers, instead giving priority to those who live in the region and country.
“Because of the decline we are seeing with fish, the economical financial gains are following suit with a lot of our local businesses that rely upon this income to sustain their livelihood feeling the decline and pressures.”
He said he is sending out the message because it’s something he hears from anglers all over the area and is a culmination of knowledge gleaned from over three decades of fishing the Skeena himself.
And while he said he understands a need for a certain amount of discussion and data analysis, Lambie believes the time to act is now.
“Actual action of enforcements and regulations are past due and need to be immediately addressed. If action isn’t taken with regards to what I have expressed here, we are looking at extinction.
“The time for talk is over.”