Thompson River Steelhead

by cousinsn on November 10, 2017 - 11:34pm

Thompson River Steelhead: Change the NRM or Lose Them


According to the British Columbia Fisheries manager, an iconic fish, steelhead, are on the brink of collapse in the Thompson River. Mike Ramsay assistant director of B.C’s Fish and Game branch, said if management practices in the federally regulated commercial salmon fishery don’t change, Thompson steelhead might not recover from low returns. Officials estimate a record low 240 steelhead will return form the ocean to the Fraser River and Eventually into the Thompson watershed this year. Every year up to a quarter of returning steelhead are being killed because he they get caught in commercial fishing gillnets that target chum salmon.


Thompson steelhead are the driving force of sport fishing tourism in the area. Anglers come to B.C. to fish the Skeena River and other famous steelhead rivers but fishing for the elusive Thompson steelhead is considered a vastly superior angling experience. "With their slim bodies and large tails, they're perfectly designed for angling. That, combined with their aggressive behaviour, makes them the perfect sport fish," said Trevor Welton, vice president of the Steelhead Society of B.C. Closures of recreational fisheries along the Thompson has resulted in the loss of up to two-thirds of the economic value of the steelhead fishery communities.


If the depletion of steelhead in the Thompson River continues due to commercial chum salmon gillnets, it can be seen as a failure of command and control resource management. Command and control resource management is a type of management that is institutionalized by the state, which regulates industrial practices. “It seeks to control nature in order to harvest its products, reduce its threats and establish highly predictable outcomes for the short term benefit of humanity” (Holling and Meffe 1996:329). This current system of resource management has been working for years, however scientists warn warming oceans due to climate change have become an increasingly hostile habitat for salmon and steelhead. Warmer oceans have resulted in record low returns for a number of fisheries this year, combined with steelhead killed in commercial chum salmon gillnets, has resulted in the Thompson River steelhead population being pushed to the brink.


Conservationists and anglers are calling for either major changes or complete closure of the chum fishery, because the steelhead need time to recover. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has made a number of changes to the chum fishery since the 1980s, such as regulating net sizes, restricting opening times and delaying the chum opening to reduce overlap of the fishery with steelhead returns. But according to Mike Ramsay the DFO needs to do more because the mortality rate of Thompson steelhead is too high for the stock to sustain. The Department of Oceans and Fisheries should transition to an adaptive management strategy in order to recuperate the loss of steelhead. Adaptive management accepts the uncertainty and the need to make decisions anyhow and seeks to promote resilience in systems. Something must be done to save the Thompson River steelhead, managing adaptively, learning through trial and error by eliminating or at the very least making drastic changes to the use of gillnets may be the best option right now for doing so.




GEOG 3210 Lecture 10 and 11

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