The fight to stop illegal salmon fishing in the Great Lakes has taken a major step forward after federal Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials released their first annual salmon census on Tuesday.
“I think it’s pretty good,” said Bob Bechtel, who manages one of the busiest salmon fisheries in the country.
“We have a good number of fish and a good amount of fish in our catch, which is good.”
Bechtels group of anglers catch about 30,000 tonnes of salmon a year, about one-fifth of the country’s catch.
“The good news is we are not going to see the fish go to waste, because they are being processed into food,” he said.
“But we have been in the salmon fishery for 30 years and it’s been tough for us.”
The census, which was first announced in February, found that about 2.2 million tonnes of fish were caught in the waters of the Great Canadian Waters in 2014, an increase of 8.7 per cent over the previous year.
The fish are being consumed as an ingredient in products ranging from bread to beer and the fish are also being exported.
“If we can get a better understanding of the impacts on our local communities, we can address the environmental impacts of these fish,” said Ken Kiefer, the federal fisheries minister.
“This is a great example of what can be achieved by working together.”
In a bid to improve the environmental footprint of the fishery, Fisheries and oceans Canada is launching a “fresh catch and use” program.
It will provide a free sample to anyone who wants to see if they can tell if the fish is harvested by fishing or not.
In 2019, the government plans to open up fishing licences to anglers, which will allow them to fish for fish caught in open water, and will provide funding for research into sustainable fisheries management.
“In addition to helping to restore the fish stock, it also helps to inform our efforts to increase the sustainability of the fisheries system,” said Kiefers deputy chief of staff, David Nairn.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get an idea of what is actually going on in the fish-farming sector and to be able to work with other countries and communities in the region to improve sustainable fisheries.”
The salmon census was released just days after the Canadian Fisheries Board announced it had issued a report that found there were more than 8,000 illegal fishing licences in the province.
It also found that the province’s salmon industry has become the second-largest in Canada after the US.
A fish caught illegally in Canada will face fines of up to $1,000.