In 2021, more than 60 per cent of commercial salmon harvesters in B.C. hung up their nets due to low returns and closures issued by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. While just over the boarder in Southeast Alaska, harvesters were posting record catches, with more than 3,000 boat-days logged and nearly 800,000 sockeye salmon harvested, many of them destine for home streams in B.C. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Since the early 2000s, and now confirmed by researches and fish biologists working with SkeenaWild and Watershed Watch Salmon Society in Victoria, interception fisheries in Southeast Alaska’s District 104 on the outer coast of the panhandle – where local rivers don’t support significant salmon populations – could be contributing to recent declines in B.C. salmon and steelhead returns to the Skeena, Nass and Fraser Rivers. Harvesting tens of thousands of Canadian Chinook and coho, as well as large but unknown numbers of co-migrating Canadian pink, chum, and especially steelhead, caught as by-catch, many of which come from threatened and endangered populations.
Salmon stocks in B.C. have seen some of the lowest returns in history over the past five years, even posting one of the worst steelhead returns in 2023, despite conservation efforts by the DFO and others. Alaskan fisheries are now the biggest harvesters of a growing number of depleted Canadian salmon populations.
Millions of Canadian salmon are now caught in Southeast Alaska every season, as the Canadian fishing fleet dwindles year after year. Many are calling on B.C. and Canada to stand up to these destructive Alaskan fisheries before it’s too late.
Lax Kw’alaams commercial harvesters Donnie Wesley and Ken Bryant have been fishing for nearly their entire lives, the better part of 50 years, however a lot has changed over those decades, it’s now harder than ever to make a living as a commercial harvester, and much of that is due to the Alaskan plunder.