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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

DFO’s new monitoring program proves there’s no free lunch for our resident orcas

“It’s appalling that we’re wasting this much salmon,” Sydney Dixon, a marine specialist at Pacific Wild, tells Capital Daily.

Mark Brennae
January 19, 2024
Ocean
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

DFO’s new monitoring program proves there’s no free lunch for our resident orcas

“It’s appalling that we’re wasting this much salmon,” Sydney Dixon, a marine specialist at Pacific Wild, tells Capital Daily.

Mark Brennae
Jan 19, 2024
Fish on deck. Photo: Pacific Wild
Fish on deck. Photo: Pacific Wild
Ocean
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

DFO’s new monitoring program proves there’s no free lunch for our resident orcas

“It’s appalling that we’re wasting this much salmon,” Sydney Dixon, a marine specialist at Pacific Wild, tells Capital Daily.

Mark Brennae
January 19, 2024
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DFO’s new monitoring program proves there’s no free lunch for our resident orcas
Fish on deck. Photo: Pacific Wild

Tons of salmon that could have been gobbled up by Vancouver Island’s beleaguered Southern Resident Killer Whales are being needlessly discarded on the high seas, according to the conservation group Pacific Wild.

“It’s appalling that we’re wasting this much salmon,” Sydney Dixon a marine specialist at Pacific Wild, tells Capital Daily.

The BC-based group points to a pre-publication finding from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on its new enhanced monitoring program of salmon bycatch in this region.

The five-month observation concluded the number of salmon caught and discarded is more than 18K. The vast majority, 93% of salmon were Chinook, the main meal for Southern Resident orcas, whose numbers have now dipped to 75 as the animal struggles to find reliable food sources. 

“We've got thousands of sport fishermen and recreational fishermen that are being told that they can't catch these salmon as a conservation measure,” Dixon says. “And yet offshore, these salmon are being slaughtered and thrown overboard as waste in the tens of thousands.”

Dixon says trawling by its very nature is indiscriminate so it’s impossible to not catch some prohibited fish but some of the fish could be saved to die another day—ideally as an orca’s lunch—if DFO were to close certain areas where they anticipate trawlers intercepting them, a strategy it has used in the past.

“So for example, in response to the preliminary findings of this report, there were in-season closures to fishing grounds for midwater trawlers around North Vancouver Island,” she said. 

Not looking, not licensed for salmon and other fish

On average, Dixon tells Capital Daily, approximately one-quarter of what the nets haul in is bycatch—salmon, herring, halibut, endangered basking sharks—which fishers are not licensed to keep, so these fish generally die and are chucked overboard. 

High-seas fishers are looking for groundfish—hake or Pacific whiting–for which they’ll stay out in the ocean for weeks to fill their freezers, all the while “wasting” the salmon.

Dixon said the freezer boats which remain at sea for prolonged periods, are catching more salmon than trawl boats that use similar methods but land fresh catch that must be brought to shore fairly quickly.

“So it's really these big industrial freezer trawlers that are the issue,” she says.

“It's important to note too, that of the 43 licences within the groundfish fleet, 74% of this salmon bycatch came from only six of those licences, which are the big factory freeze trawlers,” she says. “So, they're huge industrial killing machines that are capturing the most salmon offshore.”

Pacific Wild supports DFO's monitoring efforts

Dixon says Pacific Wild applauds DFO for its new enhanced monitoring and says with more of it the fishing community will develop a better idea where these fish are being intercepted.

“And I would like to see more closures being put in place to protect these sensitive species, like Chinook salmon,” Dixon emphasizes to Capital Daily.

This is the first year of DFO’s enhanced monitoring program where salmon are counted and retained, as opposed to estimating those numbers.

“So we're excited that there's going to be more enhanced monitoring happening next year and hopefully in subsequent years,” she says. “And hopefully, we can figure out where closures can be put in place to minimize the bycatch of species like salmon within these fisheries.”

Capital Daily contacted DFO for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

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DFO’s new monitoring program proves there’s no free lunch for our resident orcas
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