On June 19, 2011, the first four Observers from Ecotrust Canada’s Observer and Monitoring program set off from the Prince Rupert harbour, heading into Area 3 to do catch monitoring and biosampling on the first commercial gillnet opening of the salmon season. Since then, we have continued to provide Observers during seine and gillnet fishery openings in Areas 3 & 4.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) regulations have required Observers in salmon fisheries since 1989. The requirement for Observers to be on-board salmon fishing vessels is communicated in each official fishery notice released. In 2010, DFO put the contract up for bid, resulting in a successful proposal from Ecotrust Canada.

Industry, government, community and First Nations agree on the need to build the local infrastructure and expertise for a First Nations-supported monitoring, compliance, and traceability (MCT) program. Programs have always relied on resident Observers – they bring local, expert knowledge and concern for the future of the fishery because they are invested in the area and the health of their community. First Nations and other community members living in fishing areas know that independent monitoring is a key feature of sustainable fisheries.

Recognizing this, DFO has stated its commitment to providing increased opportunities for First Nations involvement in the commercial sector – through the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/picfi-ipcip/index-eng.htm, for example – with courts, coastal communities and governments all further supporting this larger role for First Nations in management of resources, including fisheries. Ecotrust Canada is also supportive of this role, and work to train community members in fisheries and data collection on the North Coast has been ongoing through the winter.

The program, which includes First Nations and non-First Nations participants, trains Observers to provide independent, objective, unbiased third party monitoring. Now, with summer and the salmon season upon us, Ecotrust Canada-trained monitors are on the water, working as Fisheries Observers and/or Sampling Technicians, as part of the effort to ensure well managed and sustainable fisheries on the North Coast. This continues to build on the work we’ve done in previous seasons delivering trained Observers and monitoring expertise to fishing grounds along the North Coast of BC.

Things to know about the At-Sea Catch Monitoring & Biosampling program for the seine and gillnet commercial fleets:

  • Ecotrust Canada provides Observers for seine and gillnet commercial fishery openings, as requested by DFO;
  • Observers are trained to be neutral, unbiased and objective, recording and reporting on their observations;
  • The Observer program provides in-season reporting on catch and bycatch, including condition of by-catch at release, to DFO for analysis, decision making and reporting;
  • The role of Observers is to record and report what they see on vessels and on the water, and to pass that information on to appropriate authorities at DFO;
  • Observers board fishing vessels to conduct catch monitoring (how many of what species are in each set) and biosampling (matched DNA operculum punches and scale samples);
  • Ecotrust Canada Observers complete reports for each non-compliance incident observed, and share this information in a standardized format with DFO.
  • The primary sampling target is Sockeye, but samplers are also retaining Chum during specific openings this season in an attempt to understand this species’ stock composition within Area 3 (Nass River watershed). Feedback received has been that commercial fishers and DFO want to better understand stock composition; chum are thus being collected under a scientific licence for this purpose, while the otoliths are collected and tested by DFO.
  • Fishermen keep Sockeye sampled as part of their haul; Chum sampled are now being distributed to First Nation community members as food;
  • All of the Ecotrust Canada Observers have undergone rigorous training recognized by, and consistent with, the sampling protocol used by the DFO stock assessment program, and carry legitimate program identification. Topics of study include but are not limited to: Fisheries Management; Fisheries Acts & Regulations; First Nation Fisheries and Co-Management; Salmon management; catch monitoring programs; Observer conduct, rights, and duties; fishing vessel operations; fish identification and classification of marine animals and seabirds; salmonid life history and biology; commercial fishery data collection; biological sampling methods; catch sampling; and chart reading. A number of guest presenters deliver information and answer questions, including DFO (stock assessment, fish management, and Conservation and Protection branches), First Nations, Environment Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium, and fishermen;
  • Fishery monitoring includes collecting accurate numbers of bycatch and the condition of bycatch upon release
  • As a part of the monitoring program we are also partnering with Environment Canada on their Seabird Survey initiative in an effort to get an idea of seabird abundance, and possible encounters (and mortality rates) with salmon fishing vessels (gillnets in particular);
  • An integral part of the Ecotrust Canada monitoring program is our focus on encouraging open communication and working together with DFO, partners in the fishing industry and within the environmental sector, fishermen, processors and communities;
  • We value transparency and open communication.

Monitoring is an integral part of any sustainable fishery, while at the same time providing employment opportunities within communities. Our work on the North Coast of BC aims to support both these principles.

Ecotrust Canada is a federally-registered charity of 15 years, whose mission is to build the conservation economy in coastal BC. A conservation economy builds communities that are more resilient over time; to this end we work at the intersection of conservation and community economic development, promoting innovation and providing services for communities, First Nations and enterprises that allow them to both green and grow their local economies. The work is innovative, entrepreneurial, partnership-based and relentlessly practical.