Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tyee Test Fishery and Steelhead Exploitation

We just wanted to make people aware of a situation that had major consequences for steelhead that occurred in 2008 and could very well repeat in 2009.

In 2008, the Tyee Test Fishery overestimated the sockeye run by 38%. But this wasnt calculated until after the commercial fishery was over. Meanwhile commercial fishing had been sanctioned at the elevated levels quite likely causing the steelhead exploitation rates to be far beyond the old SWC ceilings. Unfortunately, we only have a rough idea of what the impacts were on steelhead as DFO Stock Assessment has not been forthcoming with any information on this. But, the information we have received on steelhead exploitation rates estimate they were roughly 10% on the early run and "...possibly 3 times that on the aggregate run." Now, the 'possibly 3 times that' is already an admission that the steelhead exploitation rate is over the ceiling of 24%. But, this was prior to the Tyee overestimate of 38%. So how does this overestimate relate to steelhead? While we do know the overestimate does apply to steelhead numbers, we dont have a clear picture of how it affects the exploitation rates on steelhead. In fact, DFO has not come out publicly with hard numbers on just what exactly the final toll on steelhead was last year.

And while fisheries statistical number crunching might be complex, it doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out that the impacts on steelhead were far greater than what was planned for by fishery managers and by what stock assessment staff initially thought. Moreover, the announced 'estimate' of 30%+, which is already over the aggregate ceiling, plus the Tyee overage might equal steelhead exploitation rates in the 50%+ range...WOW! Thanks alot DFO for 'managing' our valuable steelhead by taking 50% of them as bycatch waste in your sanctioned commercial fisheries.

Worse yet, this 'overestimate' is not corrected in any historical data like the Tyee numbers in the spreadsheet we see on the DFO website. This, basically false, uncorrected number stays in the mix to throw out not only the decade averages but also the longterm historical data. A few years from now unsuspecting people interested in steelhead numbers will review 2008 and think 'wow, that was a good year'...when really the run was poor and also got hammered by commercial fishing. So much for integrity of data. And the pathetic response from DFO is "over the longterm all these over/under estimates from Tyee balance themselves out."

So, what comes of all this? What happened to the managers for keeping this information from the public or blowing past the ceilings? Absolutely nothing to our knowledge. The issue wasnt even mentioned at the Season Review meeting in November 08 in Prince Rupert. It was again sidestepped at a SWI meeting in Terrace early in the spring. It appears there is no accountability at all in the DFO world. It appears from this scenario there is no precaution built into DFO fishery management either.

Furthermore, this scenario occurred after several previous successive years at Tyee that were also over-estimates. Why is it that with such well known inherent uncertainty in the main DFO stock assessment tool, there is not a greater application of visible precautionary management? And is it just coincidental or does this uncertainty in Tyee lean towards allowing increased commercial fishing most of the time? Rarely, is the inherent uncertainty in Tyee used as an indicator for conservation concerns that translate into less commercial fishing.

Entering the 2009 season we still have major concerns with fishery management, especially measuring the impact of the commercial fishery on steelhead. It appears DFO is 'fishing blind' with regard to steelhead impacts and does not apply any precaution to it's fishery management to compensate for this fact.
But we all know this isnt about steelhead anyway.....its never been about steelhead....Skeena fishery management is all about catching sockeye first and foremost, then documenting the damage done to other species and stocks months after the commercial fishery is over.

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