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Archive for the ‘Fishery issues’ Category

Smallmouth Bass in Cultus Lake

Published on Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

A couple of months ago, we published an alert notice on the presence of smallmouth bass in Cultus Lake when the northern pikeminnow capture crew encountered a couple during the program in the spring. There was surprisingly fair amount of skepticism of this news even though the notice came from BC’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

This morning, I accompanied Region 2 biologist Colin Schwindt, and Martina Beck from Ministry’s invasive fauna unit head who spent the day sampling the lake for specimens. Several smallmouth bass were captured, including both juveniles (1 year old) and adults (3 ~ 5 year old). Their stomach samples were collected and their age will be determined at the lab.

Smallmouth bass in Cultus Lake

How smallmouth bass will impact native species in Cultus Lake including endangered sockeye salmon is unknown at this point, because there simply isn’t enough information to determine that.

Colin has asked anglers who fish the lake to retain smallmouth bass if you encounter them (the current daily quota is 20), and bring them to DFO’s Cultus Lake Salmon Research Lab (4222 Columbia Valley Highway).

More information can be found on this page.

Fish Selectively During Sockeye Salmon Fishing Closures

Published on Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

The non-tidal portion of the Fraser River is closed to sockeye salmon fishing after today. This year’s opening was almost a month long, so I hope everyone has had a chance to bring home some of the finest eating salmon. The good news is that the river will remain open for two salmon species – Chinook and chum salmon. Traditionally, the Lower Fraser River is closed to all salmon fishing throughout September, so several vulnerable runs, including Interior coho salmon and steelhead, can be protected. To still have some salmon recreational fishing opportunities available on the Fraser River this month is a bonus.

The key point that anglers should remember is to selectively target chinook and chum salmon only. In the past ten years, my colleagues and I in the Sport Fishing Advisory Committee have repeatedly asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada to define selective angling methods so they can be enforced during specific species closures. By doing so, it would result in more fishing opportunities for you if by-catches can be avoided. Instead, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has chosen not to do so, and continued to issue a “request” for selective fishing in fishery notices. This puts the recreational fishing community in a difficult place. While most anglers abide to that request, some would still choose to bottom bounce for chinook salmon and incidentally hook sockeye salmon in the process. When Fisheries and Oceans Canada observes and determines that by-catches of sockeye salmon and other closed species become too frequent, the entire fishery is shut down due to the lack of compliance of a “request” which cannot be enforced in the first place. It is a frustrating scenario and it needs to be changed, so your fishing opportunities would not be lost while conservation goals could be met.

The directors of the Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance and other business owners of the Fraser Valley recreational fishing community have been working hard on this issue. Starting tomorrow as sockeye salmon fishing closes, we are asking all anglers to stop bottom bouncing and practice selective fishing methods only. We are not asking you to do so because you should comply to a loosely defined request by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. We are asking you so the recreational fishing community can take the lead on proper fishery management, to avoid by-catches of species which we are trying to protect while enjoying the opportunities available. We want to see anglers out bar fishing for chinook salmon, and practice safe catch and release when a closed species is caught. You can also cast and retrieve lures in waters which are appropriate for the method. The take home message is that we should all avoid catching sockeye salmon, coho salmon and steelhead in the next several weeks. Thank you for the support.

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

Steelhead

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.

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.

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