Extinction Of A BC Icon

Many steelhead stocks, particularly in the southern portion of BC, are at point of functional extinction. Winter-run fish in the Gold River and many other Vancouver Island streams are basically gone. Interior Fraser steelhead, including world-renowned Thompson/Chilcotin stocks, are beyond recovery with only an estimated 125 and 66 fish, respectively, remaining.

The Fraser River. Steelhead stocks here have moved beyond recovery. Photo by iStock.
The Fraser River. Steelhead stocks here have moved beyond recovery. Photo by iStock.

Many causes for the dramatic declines have been identified, including non-selective fishing, pinniped predation, habitat destruction and mismanagement of water allocations for rural use, including ranching and farming. Unfortunately, little has been done to mitigate the impacts of these issues.

All fisheries agencies, both federal and provincial, bear responsibility for the demise of these tremendous creatures. The term steelhead management has become an oxymoron. Those who continue to fish non-selectively in all sectors also bear responsibility.

We as anglers are culpable in the demise, as we have let our elected officials allow management of these fish to perish. We will be held accountable by future generations as poor stewards of the resource. We continue to bicker within our organizations while the fish die.

The current management system is broken. The BC Federation of Drift Fishers and other organizations such as the Sport Fish Advisory Board and the Outdoor Recreation Council (100,000 members) are demanding that a comprehensive review of steelhead management in BC be initiated immediately and that a non-biased review of all recovery options be commenced.

Provincial and federal fisheries agencies must stop blaming each other for the demise and work responsibly together to seek solutions. These agencies must listen to all NGOs providing input toward extinction prevention. These agencies must make the tough decisions, ensuring all required actions by all sectors are instituted. All the NGOs must find some common ground toward saving this priceless resource. Failure to respect the opinions of all will severely restrict required actions.

We can only hope we are not too late!