A recently announced ban on salmon fishing for the entire Thompson River drainage applies only to recreational anglers, according to Murray Ross, director of fisheries with the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada issues separate licenses for the commercial fishery conducted on Kamloops Lake as well as for First Nations fishing for food and ceremonial purposes.
So far those licenses have not been cancelled, but they could be.
“I expect that, if it is so serious, the licenses will be turned down or turned off,” Ross said.
The commercial fishery on Kamloops Lake usually does not begin until the end of August.
It targets chinook, which are not so vulnerable to warm water temperatures as are sockeye.
“There’s a pretty good chance we’ll not even get chinook,” he said.
Most of the salmon that are caught in the First Nations for food and ceremonial purposes have not yet arrived. The early summer sockeye are not expected for a few weeks.
The SNTC fisheries director noted that water temperatures in the Fraser River at Hells Gate were recently at record highs for that time of year, although they have since cooled somewhat.
At the same time, water flows at Hells Gate were at record lows for that time.
“This could be the worst year for spawning migration,” he said.
On the other hand, Ross pointed out that several years ago water temperatures in the Fraser were alarmingly high and water flows were low. Fishing was closed in many locations but then the fish showed up in unexpected numbers.
“Those fish are smarter than we think,” he said. “They’ll get down into the cooler water at the bottom of a lake and recover before going on.”
He was a little surprised the Fisheries and Oceans Canada closed the chinook fishery on the Clearwater nearly two weeks before it was expected to begin.
“I guess they wanted to get their paperwork in order and give people plenty of warning. They don’t really want to fine people,” he said.
Fishing closures also should include the ocean fishery as well, he suggested.
“Fair’s fair,” Ross said. “If they want to protect the fish, should restrict both.”
Ross said that many First Nations members are concerned about the river conditions. He predicted that, if things remain as they are or get worse, many will restrict their fishing, even without action by federal fisheries.
“It’s DFO’s call. Keep calm and pray for rain,” he said.