Thompson River Steelhead Population Hanging by a Thread in British Columbia Waters

by emelchiorre on November 13, 2017 - 7:37pm

             The article “’Extremely close to being gone forever’: B.C. fisheries manager says feds failing Interior steelhead” discusses the decline in Thompson River steelhead salmon populations in British Columbia waters (Kelly, 2017). British Columbia’s fisheries manager worries the iconic fish may be on the brink of extinction in this region and conservationists believe the prized fish may soon be gone forever if nothing changes. It is estimated that only 240 steelhead salmon will return to the Fraser River and eventually into the Thompson watershed this year, which is a record low. Thompson steelhead are larger, stronger, quicker, and more aggressive than other steelhead species and fishing for Thompson steelhead is considered a superior angling experience compared to other B.C. steelhead rivers. The province, anglers and the DFO all agree that the biggest threat facing this population is warming oceans due to climate change. Another issue for the steelheads is the commercial gillnets that target salmon along the Fraser River which prevent the fish from getting to their spawning grounds and kill approximately a quarter of the returning steelheads. Fraser River chum salmon and steelheads return at the same time each fall, and the DFO has to try to reduce the bycatch of steelhead in commercial nets.         

              The assistant director of B.C.’s Fish and Game branch, Mike Ramsay, says that in order for the population to recover management practices in the commercial salmon fishery need to change (Kelly, 2017). Conservationists and anglers have written to both levels of government urging them to shut down the chum fishery so the steelhead have time to recover. The provincial ministry has closed the recreational steelhead fishery on the Thompson River and has worked on habitat restoration. The province controls steelhead management, and each year it advises the DFO on the state of the fish and the federal department is expected to take their advice into account when making a fisheries management plan. The manager of the Fraser Interior region for the DFO said these recommendations were taken into account when it was decided that gillnet chum fisheries would open along the Fraser and that since 1980 the DFO has regulated net sizes, restricted opening times and delayed the chum fishery opening so it wouldn’t overlap with steelhead returns. However, Ramsay feels the DFO isn’t doing enough, and that the current plan was only appropriate when there were thousands of Thompson steelhead in the population.

              This situation involves both cognitive and value conflicts. A value conflict arises because some parties (eg. anglers, conservationists) care more about the state of the steelhead population whereas other parties care more about profits and don’t believe saving the steelhead salmon would be worth shutting down the lucrative gillnet chum fisheries. A cognitive conflict arises because the DFO believes that it is doing enough to help sustain the Thompson steelhead population but the director of B.C.’s Fish and Game branch feels that there is a lot more to be done. The DFO is using a plan that was created when the fish population was much higher than it is now, and needs to create a new strategy to maintain this population based on the newest information available. The Thompson steelhead population was in the thousands at the time the plan was made and now it is estimated that only 240 fish will return. This is a significant difference and the DFO needs to take this into account and create stricter regulations the ensure this important species does not go extinct in this region.



Kelly, A. (2017, November 6). ’Extremely close to being gone forever’: B.C. fisheries manager says feds failing Interior steelhead. CBC News. Retrieved from