VICTORIA -- For the third year in a row, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has imposed strict regulations on Chinook salmon fishing to protect endangered southern resident killer whales, and it has people who catch the prized fish concerned for their livelihoods.

The DFO website says the decline in the endangered orca population is linked to the reduced availability of Chinook salmon, which is their principle prey. To address this, the DFO is implementing management measures to protect the vital orca food source.

In an emailed statement to CTV News, the DFO outlined the following salmon fishery closures:

  • Swiftsure Bank (portion of Subarea 121-1) in effect July 16 – October 31, 2021
  • The Strait of Juan de Fuca (Subareas 20-3 and 20-4) in effect August 1 – October 31, 2021
  • Gulf Islands (Subarea 18-9 and portions of 18-4, 18-5 and18-2) potentially in effect from June 1 until October 31, 2021, based on the first confirmed southern resident killer whale presence. This is a pilot program for 2021.

As of now, anglers are not able to keep any Chinook salmon caught in waters off much of the B.C. south coast.

One fishing charter operator based in Colwood says the restrictions are making it hard to make a living.

“For the third year in a row my boat’s in my driveway this time of year,” said No Bananas Fishing Charter operator Trevor Zboyovsky. “Normally I’d be fishing seven days a week right now, but instead I’m polishing my boat.”

Due to the third year of restrictinos on Chinook fishing, Zboyovsky says he will have to leave his home and travel to the Bamfield area to catch and keep Chinook salmon. He says if the DFO would allow the retention of hatchery Chinook salmon, he would be able to fish the waters closer to home.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a retention fishery for hatcheries of at least one per person,” said Zboyovsky. “Not having a select marked fishery is taking away my livelihood which I have been doing for 35 years.”

Zboyovsky says that similar restrictions imposed by DFO last year meant he lost approximately $30,000 in income. He says if it wasn’t for the halibut fishing industry, he would be out of business.

“We’re not looking at filling our freezers for the year, we want to go out and get one fish to bring home for a barbecue dinner, that’s all we ask,” said Zboyovsky. “Right now, the only thing in our waters is hatchery fish until later on in the summer.”

Zboyovsky says having a retention fishery of one hatchery of Chinook salmon would go a long way in salvaging his season.

“We want to catch the hatchery fish to take the pressure off the wild fish,” said Zboyovsky. “We want all the wild fish to make it back to their rivers to help them out.”

Zboyovsky says the DFO has had a proposal from the Sport Fishing Institute for more than a year. He says the group has provided data of “catch-and-release” programs and the science to support a Chinook salmon retention fishery.

“We’re just waiting on what they are going to say,” said Zboyovsky. “We need to know a year in advance – not a month after our season has started – it's just frustrating.”

Zboyovsky says if his clients knew they could keep one hatchery Chinook salmon, he would begin to see bookings for his charters.

“People want to come out and catch Chinook,” said Zboyovsky. “They fight the hardest, they’re the biggest and they’re the most prized fish in the Pacific to catch.”

The DFO statement says, “The area-based closures will be in place in southern resident killer whale key foraging areas for recreational and commercial fisheries for all species of salmon. These measures are to reduce noise and physical disturbance from vessels and only pertain to specific areas.”

It goes on to say, “All fishers are encouraged to temporarily cease fishing activities (do not haul in gear) when killer whales are within 1,000 metres. This voluntary measure is in place year-round throughout Canadian Pacific waters.”

Zboyovsky says he and other fishers who rely on Chinook salmon to earn a living would like direction from DFO on the possibility of a retention fishery for hatchery chinook salmon in the waters off southern Vancouver Island.

“We need an answer, we need an answer now,” said Zboyovsky. “By not having a retention fishery my lifestyle is being taken away.”