There are now fewer steelhead trout in the Thompson River system than there are letters in this sentence.
An Oct. 24 update from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations states that the current spawning population of the Thompson watershed is 86 fish. In the neighbouring Chilcotin watershed, 39 fish are expected to spawn.
For the Thompson, that figure is the lowest in 43 years of records. For the Chilcotin, in 49 years of records.
Each fish population remains in a state of extreme conservation concern.
The previous low point was established in March 2018, prompting the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (an advisory body to the government) to assess the populations as endangered. The body recommended an emergency order to place the fish on the endangered list under the federally controlled Species at Risk Act (SARA), which would stop fishing from recreational, commercial and First Nations sectors.
But the government’s plan released in July stopped short of any such listing, pledging instead to increase fish survival through improving freshwater habitats and conducting more science and monitoring activities.
On Thursday, five interest groups penned a letter to Premier John Horgan, pleading for action to save Interior Fraser River steelhead.
“Ocean survival, climate change and interception fisheries that use gill net are the three major factors attributed to the steep downward trend for Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead,” the letter reads, conceding that climate change and ocean survival are two factors that are beyond immediate control.
“The non-selective gill net fishery on the lower Fraser River is something that can be regulated and must be done forthwith before IFS [Interior Fraser steelhead] become extinct,” the letter continues.
The letter is signed by the BC Wildlife Federation, the British Columbia Federation of Drift Fishers, the British Columbia Federation of Fly Fishers, the Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association and the Steelhead Society of British Columbia.