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Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Save the Interior Fraser Steelhead this Christmas!

Published on Friday, December 15th, 2017

Can you fulfill my Christmas wish this year?

Around a month ago, I talked about the current demise of the Interior Fraser River steelhead populations (Thompson and Chilcotin Rivers) and asked you to sign a petition so the angling community can come together to do something about it. That particular petition has gained tremendous amount of media attention in the past four weeks. It is bitter sweet. On one hand, it’s fantastic to finally see the public being concerned about a species that really don’t have a whole lot of value to human beside sportfishing. On the other hand, it is sad that we had to wait until this stage to finally take action.

This week, my colleague Eric Taylor at UBC has also shared his concerns on these steelhead populations. Dr Taylor is an avid angler as well as a zoologist who specializes on several native fish species in the Pacific Northwest. He is also the chairman of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and has launched an emergency assessment for these steelhead. We are losing the genetic components of some rather special populations of steelhead at a rapid rate, so we need to move fast to save what’s left.

This Christmas, I have one last request for all of you to do, which is to sign the official e-petition at Canada’s House of Commons. This petition, initiated by The Steelhead Society of B.C.’s member Poul Bech and sponsored by MP Fin Donnelly, is asking the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to suspend ALL non-selective gill net fisheries in the Fraser River during the migratory time of these steelhead. Once the number of signatures reaches 500, it will be brought up to the House of Commons next year. Lets get it done so we can finally keep these nets out of the water next fall!

The Unnecessary Demise of an Iconic Species

Published on Monday, November 20th, 2017


By now if you do some kind of recreational fishing in British Columbia, you must have heard about the predicted return numbers for this year’s Interior Fraser River steelhead, which are pretty dismal. The expected number of steelhead returning to the Thompson River is 145 fish, while Chilcotin River’s return is expected to be 45 fish. The number of fish spawning in the spring will most likely be even lower than that once overwintering mortality is taken into account.

The Thompson River returns, just one decade ago, were still in the thousands. Lets pause for a minute and think about the rate of this decline. If an iconic species of animal in British Columbia, take grizzly bear, or bald eagle for example, had a 50%+ decrease after one breeding cycle, imagine what the public outrage would be.

The trouble with fish is that, they are in the water. You can’t see them and you don’t know how they’re doing. Once a fish species loses its commercial value, it no longer is a public interest. A handful of lucky steelhead anglers who have had the privilege to shake hands with these fish, have a sentimental connection with them and will be their advocates, but their voices are not enough to bring these populations back to what they used to be. The recovery of a species requires the support of ALL British Columbians, and this is where you come in.

Now, I can’t sit here and tell you what a magnificent sportfish the Thompson River steelhead is or that we are saving them so future generations can enjoy catching them. Firstly, I’ve never fished for them so I wouldn’t know, and this is not about fishing anymore. The loss of a species is tragic, especially when it is preventable. The goal is no longer to save an iconic fish so some fishermen can feel the tug again. This is about saving genetically distinct populations of fish which cannot be replaced once they are gone.

The Interior Fraser River steelhead’s endemic range is huge. From the streams where they hatch to the Pacific Ocean, too many things can go wrong in tens of thousands squared kilometres. On top of natural challenges such as predation and unfavourable oceanic conditions, their survival is impacted by plenty of human activities. Some of these human-caused problems take time to resolve, while others can be eliminated immediately.

The commercial chum salmon gill net fishery in the Lower Fraser River, which takes place during these steelhead’s returns, is one of them. When there are only 200 fish returning, it is absurd to suggest some of them can be considered as incidental by-catches so a fishery can be allowed. With a post-release mortality at over 60%, you can see how fast the population can be pushed to extinction. The trouble with saving a species, is the race against time. The rate of decline accelerates as the species approaches extinction. Ten years ago, losing 20 fish meant a 1% loss of the population. Today, it becomes 10%. Time is running out.

Our immediate action should be to pressure this government to end a commercial fishery that puts money in a few pockets at the expense of a species’ survival. You can do so by signing this current petition that has been circulating. By signing this petition, it does not guarantee the recovery of the Interior Fraser River steelhead populations, far from it. This recovery will most likely take decades so your ongoing action and support are required. Sign, share and inform others who are still unaware.

Being Kept Off the River for the Wrong Reasons

Published on Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Catching Fraser River Pink Salmon

Throwback Thursday! Exactly two years ago, Junior experienced his first pink salmon outing on the Fraser River. His job at the time was to net the fish. This fish he is ready to graduate to actually bring one in with a rod and reel.

Once every two years, many families like ours, have the privilege to enjoy this wonderful fishery for a couple of weeks. It is the perfect salmon species for young anglers. They are plentiful, eager to bite and easy to manage once on your fishing line.

I’m sure many of you are frustrated (actually that is an understatement, livid might be the appropriate term) as this fishery closure continues after yesterday’s Fraser River salmon update. Comments across our social media platforms and discussion forum make that pretty evident. While I understand the frustrations, there is quite a bit of misinformation being put out there so lets lay out the facts so you know what’s going on.

First of all, almost all of the fisheries in Region 2 are open right now. The Fraser River is closed for salmon fishing, but the negative publicity of this closure has lead anglers to believe that all rivers are closed. You can check what you can fish for and retain in each river on this page:

Most of the tributaries of the Lower Fraser River are still not seeing salmon returning yet, but things are slowly picking up. As always, Chilliwack/Vedder River is seeing both chinook salmon (which you can retain) and pink salmon (which you can catch and release) arriving daily at the moment.

Secondly, First Nations have the right to have their communal food and ceremonial fisheries, please don’t suggest otherwise. The constitution of your country says so. If you would like to challenge that, the supreme court of Canada would be the venue for you to do so.

Some of you have expressed your concerns on the racial remarks in the comment section. Please note that inappropriate comments do get deleted (if you can’t see the deleted comments, how would you know if comments aren’t being deleted?). Some comments that are stereotyping but not what I’d consider as racist are left alone, because both sides need to see them to understand that there is a problem when priority is given to one user group than the other. Lack of understanding from both sides leads to stereotyping, which leads to conflicts.

This blame on First Nations for the demise of Fraser River salmon is unnecessary. While the amount of fish taken seems significant, it is incomparable to what commercial fisheries harvest historically. With that said, there are issues that need to be addressed. By-catches of sockeye salmon, which apparently are a major concern in recreational fisheries, exist in in-river gill net fisheries and cannot be ignored. The illegal sales of salmon from communal fisheries by some participants need to be stopped. You can do so by reporting the sales, and not buying to end the demand. Just like in recreational fisheries, a small number of people who choose not to play by the rules gives the entire user group a bad name, which should not be used to label the entire group.

Rather than blaming the other user group which shares the same resource as you, your attention should shift toward those who manage these fisheries and pose questions which have been avoided repeatedly. Instead of simply shut down the entire fishery, why are we not looking at different options to provide some angling opportunities while ensuring the sustainability of vulnerable species? Why aren’t the options of opening pink salmon for catching and releasing, or reducing the retention quota to 2, or 1 fish, being considered? What is the target quota given for the First Nations, is it a fixed number of fish per year, or is it a ratio that is adjusted based on the size of the runs? And are we expecting that target to be reached before we can expect a recreational fishing opening? Why are terminal fisheries for pink salmon in systems like Chilliwack/Vedder and Harrison Rivers not being made available, when the rationale of the closure is to protect Fraser River sockeye salmon? Why is the Tidal Fraser River not open for pink salmon when incidental by-catches of sockeye salmon are unheard of due to the specific fishing techniques being employed for pink salmon? Why is the retention of dead sockeye salmon being permitted now in some First Nations communal fisheries when their low returns are the reason behind recreational fishing closures?

Instead of complaining about First Nations, the lack of fishing opportunities and wanting your licences refunded here, you should be phoning Barbara Mueller, the resource manager of Fraser River (604.666.2370) and Jennifer Nener (604-666-0789) at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who should be able to answer these for you while you address your concerns. In the past several years, this community has seen a sharp decline in interest on recreational fishing among resource managers. Instead of answering questions, resource managers have taken the silent approach in the past two years. While conservation is priority to ensure the survival of future stocks, some management decisions being made are simply wrong and their socioeconomic impacts need to be addressed. When one user group is being shut out because it is the easiest way to avoid conflicts between groups, you’re simply sweeping the problems to the side which will keep growing. The recreational fishing community cannot stand by during these closures in the name of conservation while many signs indicate otherwise.

The Pros and Cons of Fraser River White Sturgeon Catch and Release Fishery

Published on Sunday, August 28th, 2016

Lower Fraser white sturgeon caught by Nina and Kitty.

Last weekend Vancouver Sun published an article, Doubts over catch-and-release sturgeon fishery in the Lower Fraser River after new study finds fish endure extreme stress, which raises some legitimate concerns on this fishery, but it immediately drew negative attention from those who are not familiar with it as expected.

While post-release mortality in any catch and release fishery should be a concern, most readers of this article are unfamiliar how the Lower Fraser River white sturgeon fishery is practiced. Unlike the methodology used in the study which this article refers to, air exposure is minimized as per the catch and release guidelines developed by resource managers and the recreational fishing community. We don’t hang our fish in the air after a lengthy fight as it was simulated in the study.

The white sturgeon catch and release guidelines prohibit anglers from removing fish out of the water when they are captured. Any fish over the length of 5′ must cannot be lifted up in the air due to insufficient weight support. Fish under the length of 5′ are kept in cradles that are constantly fed with water while the fish are being measured. Catch and release has its risks and there’s no doubt that some mortalities occur, but with proper practice anglers can prevent this from happening.

Higher water temperature in the summer should indeed be a concern. Coupling high water temperature with a long fight, a fish’s survival rate can be lowered. Managers should look at these factors and adjust the regulations, rather than proposing a permanent ban as many non-fishermen would like to see.

Although the fight of a large sturgeon can sometimes be over one hour long, one should not assume that the fish’s health is jeopardized. Anyone who has fought a large sturgeon knows that most of the fight actually involves the fish swimming around without even being aware of the hook while the angler can only sit back and hold onto the rod. It is unrealistic to expect an angler to be reeling and putting pressure on a fish for over one hour straight. Physically it is impossible for most people.

Despite of these potential negative impacts, lets look at the benefits which this fishery has brought to the Lower Fraser River white sturgeon population and the Fraser Valley communities.

Since this sturgeon fishery was transformed into catching and releasing, and harvesting was banned in 1995, an ongoing tag and recapture program was also established. Fishing guides have volunteered to be part of this program since the beginning, and have tagged over 50,000 fish in the past twenty years. From the data collected (length and girth measurements, locations of their capture/recapture), it has accelerated our understanding on these fish. We’ve been able to estimate the Lower Fraser white sturgeon population size and its growth, the health of each year class so recruitment rate can be determined, their migratory patterns from capture/recapture points, and locations of their spawning grounds.

In addition, this recreational fishery has generated millions of dollars from freshwater fishing licences and conservation surcharges. A percentage of these funds have been used in recovery programs for the other endangered white sturgeon populations in this province (Columbia, Kootenay, etc) which are actually endangered. This catch and release does not just benefit the Lower Fraser white sturgeon population, but its positive impacts stretch right across the province.

While some may think catch and release is a cruel practice and those who participate in it cannot persuade those who don’t agree with it, I think we can all agree that this fishery’s benefits have outweighed the presumed negative impacts. As more conclusive information on post-release mortality is formed by researchers, the fishery can then be refined to further minimize our impacts.

Videos: Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC Public Information Sessions

Published on Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Back in March and April 2016, Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC (GoFishBC) hosted a series of public information sessions so you can find out more about what FFSBC is doing to maintain and improve recreational freshwater fisheries in this province. During the sessions, VP of Science from FFSBC made two presentations and they can now be viewed here if you missed the sessions. The first video is an overview on who FFSBC is and what they do. The second video is about developing new freshwater fishing licencing products.

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