Great concern for steelhead stocks

Thompson River steelhead havw returned in their lowest numbers ever — a mere 254 steelhead

Great concern for steelhead stocks

To the editor;

Earlier this year, the provincial government disclosed the world-renowned Thompson River steelhead had returned in their lowest numbers ever — a mere 254 steelhead. Historically, it’s thought as many as 10,000 steel- head migrated to the Thompson each year. Thompson steelhead are one of six endangered steelhead stocks, collectively known as Interior Fraser steelhead (IFS), that migrate to a vast area in the Interior of B.C. each fall. IFS are thought to be genetically unique to B.C., having originated from the Columbia River system after the last ice age. All other B.C. steelhead are believed to have orig – inated from Haida Gwaii stocks. This genetic distinction explains the steelhead’s greater size and relative strength so highly prized among sport fishers. Each fall, while IFS migrate from the ocean to their natal streams to procreate in the following spring, they are intercepted in myriad fisheries along the B.C. and Alaska coast that seek more numerous salmon stocks. While degraded ocean and freshwater habitats have played a part in this precarious situation, at this point the over-riding objective among fisheries conservationists is to ensure as many IFS adults as possible return to spawn. This means closing fisheries, something the federal government, which has jurisdiction over salmon fisheries, has recently indicated it is not prepared to do. While Canada has species at risk laws the process is slow, cumbersome and fraught with political peril. IFS will likely become a species at risk candidate, but it could take up to four years for an “endangered” recommendation. For IFS, time appears to grow short while governments dither.

Greg Gordon