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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.

Rivers Reopen for Fishing!

Published on Monday, September 14th, 2015

Most rivers in Region 1 (Vancouver Island) and Region 2 (Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley) which have been closed to fishing in the past several weeks due to the drought conditions are now open for fishing once again! Here are the notices:

To check the daily quota of salmon for the stream where you want to fish, you should visit the following links:

Lower Fraser River Interior Coho Salmon Management Measures

Published on Monday, September 7th, 2015

Fraser River coho salmon

If you fish the Lower Fraser River for pink salmon, then you should be aware of some important regulation changes which come in effect this week. These changes include:

  • Bait ban for salmon fishing
  • No fishing for coho salmon and sockeye salmon

The windows of these changes are as follows:

Since 2001, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has identified these dates as the migration period for Interior Fraser River coho salmon, which are endangered. To protect these fish, managers have used these measures to minimize their mortality. Bait such as roe is known to be very effective for coho salmon in the Fraser River, so well that fish often swallow the bait when hooked. This often leads to post-release death, therefore banning the use of bait during this period is required. The Sport Fishing Advisory Committee has also made sure fishing opportunities for chinook, pink and chum salmon remain available during this period, so anglers can still cast lures, fly fish, bar fish with a spin n’ glow for them without impacting the coho salmon run. When you catch a salmon, be sure to identify it first in your landing net before bringing it onto shore. If it is a coho salmon, please release it with care so it can continue its migration safely. With your support, we can keep these fishing opportunities open while protecting endangered species.

Coho salmon and pink salmon

 

Knowing the differences between a coho and a pink salmon may sound simple on paper, but beginners often find it difficult when seeing them for the first time by the river. If you are just starting out, don’t be afraid to ask for second opinions if you are unsure about your catch. Always double, triple checks your fish before deciding to retain it. Experienced anglers should understand these challenges for beginners and assist and educate those who seem to need guidance. Coho salmon (top in the photo) have small spots across their back and the top portion of the tail. Pink salmon (bottom in the photo) have larger “thumb-print”, oval spots across their back and the entire tail.

If you are interested in reading more about Interior Fraser River coho salmon and its recovery program, please check out this document.

Selective Fishing for Fraser River Salmon Requested

Published on Friday, July 31st, 2015

Salmon fishing opens for the tidal portion of the Fraser River on August 1st and for the non-tidal portion of the Fraser River on August 3rd. The openings are for three species, chinook, pink and chum salmon, while sockeye salmon fishing remains closed because their abundance is currently not high enough for an opening.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has requested all anglers to fish selectively, meaning that you should specifically target species that are open while avoiding catching sockeye salmon.

“There is no retention of sockeye salmon permitted at this time. Given the low abundance of sockeye and the expected en-route mortality, impacts on sockeye are to be minimized and DFO is working with all users of the resource to limit impacts on sockeye.

While fishing for pink, chinook and chum salmon, anglers should avoid using fishing methods that catch sockeye salmon and fish selectively. The first principle of selective harvesting is to avoid catching non-targeted stocks. This means that anglers should use methods that do not catch sockeye. The following fishing methods enable anglers to catch pink, chinook and chum salmon and rarely intercept sockeye salmon:

Bar Fishing
Trolling Spoons at Creek mouths
Float Fishing
Pulling Plugs
Fly Fishing

We encourage anglers to continue to use these methods to target pink, chinook and chum while avoiding sockeye.

Please note that bottom bouncing is NOT considered a selective fishing method and is strongly discouraged. The Department requests that selective fishing techniques be used and will continue to closely monitor the situation to ensure impacts on sockeye are at a minimum.

Should DFO feel that the rate of compliance is insufficient to ensure the adequate passage of sockeye, spot closures or a “no fishing for salmon” restriction may result.”

In the summer months, especially this year, water temperature is not as tolerable for salmonids so fish which are released always have a chance of dying due to stress. It is important for the recreational fishing community to demonstrate that selective fishing practices can be done while protecting runs which are closed for fishing so future stocks are not jeopardized. If the department observes too many sockeye salmon being caught and released, then the fishery will most likely be shut down once again to ensure the safe passage of these fish.

Sockeye salmon in the Lower Fraser River generally do not bite as they travel upstream. During a sockeye salmon recreational fishing opening, fish are usually caught by flossing (or more commonly referred to as bottom bouncing), which involves the use of a long leader so the fish are accidentally hooked in the mouth as it swept across the river. This technique is not encouraged when sockeye salmon are not open for fishing, because it is not selective. Instead, anglers are asked to catch chinook, pink and chum salmon by bar fishing, casting and retrieving lures, float fishing with bait, etc. The chance of hooking a sockeye by using these methods is significantly lower than flossing.

Bar fishing is done in the non-tidal portion of the Fraser River, usually between Hope and Chilliwack where the current is adequate enough to troll a spin-n-glow at a stationary spot. If you have never experienced bar fishing before, please check out the following links for more information.

In the tidal portion of the Fraser River, chinook salmon are typically caught by plunking freshly cured salmon roe. This technique can be very successful for jacks, which are males returning one year earlier than other fish in the same run. The video, Tidal Fraser Bottom Setup, gives you an idea how this is done.

For pink salmon, which don’t enter the Fraser River until the end of August, they can easily be caught by casting and retrieving spoons and spinners. The article, Fishing for Tidal Fraser Pink Salmon, provides an overview of this fishery and explains the technique used to catch these abundant fish.

Have a great long weekend! We will have some fantastic salmon fishing opportunities coming up in the next four months across Southern British Columbia so lets enjoy it without impacting closed species. By complying to these requests, the recreational fishing community can lead by example when it comes to protecting vulnerable salmon stocks.

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