Operation salmon

Published: Wednesday 15 May 1996

Anticipating a repetition of the devastation of its East Coast fishing over the recent years, Canada said in late March that it would reduce West Coast salmon fishing by half, as the industry faces one of the poorest salmon seasons in a generation.

For years, the number of salmon returning from the ocean to their home rivers has been dropping, and experts have warned of a disaster that had struck the Atlantic. Off the coast of Newfoundland, about 40,000 fisher people and fish plant workers became jobless. The government had virtually shut down all cod fishing in the early '90s to allow what few fish were left to multiply.

The West Coast salmon fishery is a subject of intense debate between commercial fisherpeople, sportshunters and local Indians, each accusing the other of angling too much catch. The government has also acted callously by allowing too many fishing boats to chase too few fish.

These reasons apart, high-tech boats, river pollution and warming of the oceans have reduced the salmon population. Unless it can rebuild its fish stocks, Canada, a nation that for centuries have ever zealously guarded its waters for its fishing groups, risks losing its industry on bath its coasts.

The federal government said that it would go all the way to spend nearly US $60 million to buy licenses back from the fisherpeople by this summer and adopt other measures that together will reduce the number of fishing vessels in Canadian Pacific waters by one half (to 2,200). Lower limits an catches and restrictions on new licenses will be implemented; the possibility remains that all fishing on the Fraser river will also be prohibited.

"These are bold, tough, but necessary measures if we are going to be successful in revitalising the industry," said Canadian fisheries minister Fred Misin. "To put very simply, the fish come first."

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