MPs on Vancouver Island and the coast are calling for a change in Chinook salmon retention rules.

The NDP members are urging Fisheries Minister Jonathon Wilkinson to consider allowing for the retention of marked, or hatchery-raised, Chinook salmon.

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns said the impacts of chinook restrictions are substantial on B.C. anglers and coastal communities.

“It’s an overall billion-dollar sector,” said Johns, who is also the NDP Critic for Fisheries, Oceans and the Coast Guard.

“The closures are having a huge impact on all of the small businesses that rely on this fishery and the multiplier effect means that it’s going into having a huge impact on every Coastal community right up and down the coast.”

Johns said that during meetings with Wilkinson, “we were told marked Chinook retention was being looked at, but we’ve heard nothing. Today, we are asking the government to make it a priority.”

He noted that there must be a balance between conservation and supporting the fishing industry.

“Largely, I think most people on the coast have been united in understanding that we’ve got to stand together and work together to conserve and protect those stocks. However, there are measures the government can take to support the viability of the recreation and sport and commercial fishing sector when it comes to species that are certainly not going to affect the conservation efforts that they’re making.”

Johns said that allowing fishers and anglers to keep marked, hatchery-raised Chinook salmon won’t affect the overall objective of preserving the species.

“So we’re asking the minister to allow for the retention of one marked, Chinook salmon per day, and that will certainly help support those anglers, especially the sports and commercial fishing sectors when they’re out there fishing.”

The call comes the same day as a protest in Victoria by sport fishers. 

Anglers from across coastal B.C. gathered off the Ogden Point breakwater to urge the federal government to allow retention of marked Chinook.

Sport fishers say allowing the retention of marked Chinook would have minimal impacts on Fraser Chinook returns, and would greatly benefit an industry reeling from the impact of the sweeping closures and restrictions which took effect in the spring.

Owen Bird, Executive Director of the Sport Fishing Institute of BC said marked fish isn’t the only issue sport fishers are waiting to see government action on: “As well as marked, select fisheries, we are also keen to see discussion around production, marking rates, and recovery plans for the stocks. We’re not hearing enough about that, and it’s a major component of the issue.”

“Many coastal communities, like those in my riding, rely on recreational fishing for their economic livelihoods,” said Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford. 

“We must recognize the important salmon conservation and habitat restoration measures that recreational fishing organizations engage in, as well as their efforts in releasing hatchery-raised fish.”