Interior Fraser rainbow trout are at risk of extinction, warn fishing and conservation groups

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British Columbia fisheries and conservation groups are warning that a unique species of sea trout is facing a “serious conservation crisis” and must be added to Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Fifteen groups, including the BC Wildlife Federation and the Steelhead Society of BC, have written to federal environment and fisheries ministers calling for immediate action to reduce interior Fraser steelhead stocks, a variety of rainbow trout.

The species, a member of the salmon family, migrates to the ocean for most of its life, but hatches and spawns in the Thompson and Chilcotin rivers in British Columbia.

The letter, also signed by Eric Taylor, the former chair of the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, says fish numbers have experienced a “precipitous decline” over the past decade.

In 2018, rainbow trout were rejected for emergency listing under the Species at Risk Act and a second recommendation in 2020 still awaits ministerial review, even though groups say spawning populations of last year reached their lowest levels since records were kept.

Rainbow trout in the Thompson River are among the most prized in the world, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling and conservationists fear they will soon be lost forever. (Sean Mahar)

The letter urges ministers to act, saying current plans proposed by the Fisheries Act are not designed to restore endangered fish populations and have not halted the decline of rainbow trout .

“The [Interior Fraser steelhead] situation is the most serious conservation crisis for all wild marine fish in British Columbia,” the letter reads.

Environment and Climate Change Canada declined to comment on the letter, relying on Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). No one from DFO was immediately available to comment on the claims.

Fewer than 15 fish returned per tributary last fall, which the letter says is far below the numbers that prompted the two previous recommendations for species protection.

It predicts an “imminent threat to survival” if an immediate recovery strategy and action plan is not created for the fish, which the groups describe as “arguably once the strongest groups of rainbow trout revered in British Columbia and beyond.

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