The B.C. government is planning to shut down the coming steelhead trout sport fishery as fish return to the Thompson and Chilcotin rivers.
Although the official word has yet to come down from government, one official, who asked not to be named, said the shutdown is “in the works.”
The move would be the latest effort to save the steelhead, which have returned in diminishing numbers in recent years.
Last year, fewer than 200 Thompson steelhead and fewer than 50 Chilcotin steelhead returned — the lowest levels since record-keeping began.
On Feb. 13, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (an advisory body to the government) assessed the Thompson River and Chilcotin steelhead as endangered and recommended an emergency order to place the fish on the endangered list under the federally controlled Species at Risk Act.
That order would mean changes to commercial fisheries, where bycatch — like steelhead caught incidentally alongside salmon — means increased mortality among stocks.
So far, the federal government hasn’t taken action.
Mike Simpson, Thompson region senior manager with the Fraser Basin Council, told KTW the province’s move might mean a little or it might mean a lot.
“Well, this is the thing that’s been disputed. I don’t think there’s clear science on what the impact of sport fishing — catch and release only on Steelhead — I’ve heard some people say it’s only a one per cent mortality,” Simpson said.
“I’ve heard other people say that it’s a lot and I know First Nations, who we engage on steelhead, don’t like that there’s any catch and release,” Simpson said.
But whether the impact is small or large, Simpson said that might not matter.
“Given that the numbers are so low, even if it is one per cent mortality, I think a lot of people would say it makes sense to have a sport fishing ban,” he said.