Sunday, 3 June 2018

DFO, Salmon and Killer Whales

The Sport Fishing Institute sent around a note – link at bottom – this past week asking for sport fishers to send a letter to DFO on the closing of sport fishing to put more chinook in the tummies of Southern Resident Killer whales. So, I wrote a letter to Dominic LeBlanc and also put it on one of my sites: Please write your own.

It is a cut to the chase piece that notes the problem is long term intransigence by DFO for both salmon habitat restoration and protecting killer whales. It is below. Immediately below is my second note to LeBlanc:

Hi Dominic (Letter also sent to Justin Trudeau, Andrew Weaver, Elizabeth May, Adam Olsen, Martin Paish, Chris Bos, Rebecca Reid, Sport Fishing Institute).

I sent a letter to you this past week noting that the chinook/killer whale problem is not going to be solved by closing sport fishing in selected areas. I have written on fisheries policy for 25 years, and the answer is: significantly increasing habitat restoration funding and netpens for chinook.

In the past four days, since posting the letter to my Fish Farm News and Science site, it has had an unprecedented response: 8,500 pageviews so far, virtually all from Canada. I used to write letters for ministers in the BC government, and know lists of issues are kept, and preparing responses is a meticulous, time consuming and costly activity. 

If 8,500 responses had been received, it would have shut down the branch preparing them for months. That is how big a response BC has to your ill-conceived plan that will solve nothing, other than make British Columbians angry. My plan will solve the problem. Please read it again.

After buying the Kinder Morgan pipeline with BC taxpayer money, you need a significant win in BC or you will be shut out in the next election. You will recall that BC was the balance of power in the last election.

DC Reid

Here is the first letter:

Hi Dominic et al

I want to tell you that it is greatly disappointing that after 40 years of DFO managing BC salmon into extinction, here we are today, with you eliminating recreational fishing in areas of the Salish Sea/Juan de Fuca Strait for killer whale food, when the real solution is for DFO to have been doing freshwater habitat restoration and hatchery epigenetics work at a rate that would have seen salmon stocks stay at the same level as in the 1960s.

What you are doing now is with almost extinction levels of Fraser chinook, feeding almost extinct killer whales that DFO has not been doing enough for over the decades, and finally, when it won’t save the whales, eliminating a sport fishery, and they will likely become extinct, anyway. Note that from the east all we hear from DFO is how 500 right whales are on the brink. Note that 76 BC orcas are only 15.2% of your eastern right whales.

Note the attached shot of a 1960’s morning’s sport catch from the Nahmint River, a small drainage in the Alberni Inlet. Where are the Nahmint and dozens of other chinook runs today, DFO?

Two things are required immediately: far greater money spent on freshwater habitat restoration, and netpens of chinook.
Freshwater Habitat Restoration

I think $100 million needs to be invested each year for the next 10 years to catch up. If you look at what $1.5 million did to the Clay Bank on the Cowichan River, it shows that money doesn’t go very far. I suggest you give the money to the Pacific Salmon Foundation because it leverages money 4 to 7 times, and the public, particularly students and sport fishers do most projects.

I spent more than a week’s time figuring out from DFO’s patchwork of data/reports (because DFO doesn’t have a final number) that there were, before escapement, 73 million salmon in the ocean. In perspective, this is 99.8% of all the salmon in Canada. Your eastern Atlantic salmon are a measly .2-to .4-million, or .2%.

In my estimation, there are four major problems that have lead to the downward spiral of wild BC salmon: lack of freshwater habitat restoration, DFO, in-ocean fish farms and climate change. We can change every major problem except climate change. 


I recommend an immediate establishment of a dozen netpens of 2 million chinook fry each. Use Robertson Creek and the Nitinat hatcheries for Juan de Fuca Strait, and Cowichan – a river that has had a large turnaround in the past few years – for Strait of Georgia. That means 24 million fry each year for the next ten years. The point is that it has to be done quickly to save the killer whales, and though it is 4 years to adults, if we wait, it is those years plus 4 years to adults. 

Pay attention to the issue of triploiding for netpens and epigenetics for an increased Salmon Enhancement Program in the specific rivers. And pay attention to the work done by the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition, Sooke netpen operation using Nitinat stock, now releasing its second crop. Funding comes from members, mostly anglers. And a seal cull would help.

Finally, after buying out Kinder Morgan, you liberals are in deep trouble in BC, on two major issues. You need to do something major quickly, and a recent poll shows that BC holds salmon as dear as Quebec does French.


DC Reid

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Stonefly Patterns

I now own 21 fly boxes. Not that I need another, but I bought a good number of stonefly flies at Nile Creek Fly Shop and got another box in the process – they display so nicely. Stonefly flies have become popular in the past five years because they catch a great number of Vancouver Island salmonids.

We are fortunate to live in an area where we have both resident and anadromous salmonids. The former spend their entire lives in freshwater, the latter spend time in both salt- and fresh-water. Resident fish key in on the actual food and thus prefer a fly that mimics those insects. People all across the country know only resident fish and know well that such fish can be extremely fussy, preferring, for example, only one species of Mayfly nymph, and if you don’t have the pattern, you will not catch fish. The problem can be even more difficult for dry flies that mimic adults, particularly their size.

Anadromous fish on the other hand, feed on ocean feed for part of their lives, feed that may not have any freshwater look alike, and then feed in freshwater on what they find. The important point is that they are less selective about what they will glom; that is the reason we use attractor patterns for steelhead. They feed aggressively, and that colourful chunk of ‘food’ swinging quickly across their vision stimulates an instinctive feeding/aggression - we don’t care which - whack at the fly. The speed with which the patterns move also makes the fish make an immediate decision to bite, rather than leisurely picking off a tumbling bug, some of which they may miss anyway.

And that is where stonefly patterns come in. There are stoneflies in the water, along with Mayflies, Damsel flies, Caddis flies and so on. And specific nymph patterns are all for wet fly fishing rather than dry fly fishing, an important distinction. The technical form of nymph fishing is sometimes called: high stick nymphing. On Van Isle there are many rivers where you can do this in the late spring, the Elk being a well-known example, but only one of a number of such fisheries. Get out there and look for others.

While you can buy stoneflies of any size, or make even smaller flies, actual stoneflies are often larger. I use size 2 to 8 hooks (and mostly 4 and 6) and simply pick up a bunch of different colours, with or without carapaces, and wriggly legs, based on past success. Technically they are called searching patterns, but one that mimics a lot of food in the water, and targets fish that feed on a variety of food sources in the ocean and rivers. 

So, stoneflies will catch cutthroat, Dolly Varden and steelhead along with some resident fish. I think the larger size works better for fish that have max a second or two to see the fly and attack it. Large is better in the swing. Technically nymphs don’t ‘swing’ but any kind of volitional food swims, and thus swing/strip is the action of a living thing. 

Stoneflies are used in the warm months. Look at the rocks at your feet. You want algae, that slippery stuff – but not didymo – and to find nymphs eating their way across the rocks. Most rivers will have nymphs from May to September. Once you see there are no more nymphs, it is time to move to a different fly. Also, when salmon come in, they push other salmonids aside, and make them switch to target salmon eggs. It is quite distinct when the season’s nymphs are all hatched that anadromous fish stop biting on stonefly flies, and it is time to switch to attractors that prevail through the winter until May when you once again see the new season’s nymphs on the rocks. And switch to dry flies only when you see fish on the surface.

Also note that in canyon rivers, ones that receive melted snowpack, and infertile ones, you will find that attractor patterns out-fish nymph patterns. Part of the issue is the extra water, flash floods, and no algae for nymphs to eat. Extra water has these effects: there is more volume and thus the concentration of fish is lower; the water is moving faster and prevents fly penetration; and, it erases choke points that are key for catching fish. Fish are on the downstream side of a choke point (or in the tailout above), and in most rivers, other than canyon ones, these can be as much as a half mile apart. Get to know your river, get to know it’s hotspots. And make haste between them. 

Note also that higher water means the danger of being swept away is greater. In addition, fewer spots allow you to cross. And because river beds change over the winter, you need to make sure each spring that where you want to cross still is a crossable spot, and not another foot or two deeper. And, if you can only cross a river here and there, take account of that fact in planning your day. It may be better/safer to bushwhack into a spot, come back to the trail, and bushwhack into the next spot. 

Finally, choice of fly line is important. Full sink for winter rivers, with their deeper, faster water. Use a long sink tip fly- and sinking running- line for the crossover months, and finally, a floating line with a lighter sink tip for lowest water. Take along a second reel with your choice of a second fly line. It is very annoying to find yourself hitting bottom with a line with too much sink, and breaking off flies, as well as leaders and attached sink tips. The stretch of fly line – as much as 20 feet – that results from being stuck on something that won’t give way, can ruin it. 

Here is a link to find stonefly patterns, life cycle info and background text:

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Sport Fish Advisory Board Minutes – April 2018

The SFAB deals with DFO on behalf of sport fishers – our issues and concerns. You can become involved in your local area if you wish. The main sport fishers on the SFAB are longstanding, knowledgeable and speak well for us. Below, is a summary of a few issues in the 23-page PDF.

For several reasons chinook are the key species under discussion: under-production of several Fraser stocks, food for killer whales and some for the three main stakeholders, sport fishers, commercial fishers and aboriginals. The intention is to increase hatchery stocks. At present there is no cash to expand infrastructure or open new hatcheries. On the other hand, the epigenetic approach of developing a more robust hatchery stock does suggest that the problem of hatchery fish being unable to spawn naturally, can be resolved.

The discussion on freshwater habitat restoration has not yet progressed in the issue list, but of course, is the root issue. Netpens are being discussed, and as I suggested in an earlier post, it makes sense to start a dozen netpens, each having 2 million fry, with a total of 24 million each year, that would begin to address the killer whale feed issue – and we need to do it as soon as possible to put adult chinook in the water. Another solution at early discussion stage is marking chinook for release and thus fisheries, as is done in WA.

Cost of marking fish is an issue, as well as interaction of marked fish with the Coded Wire Tagging program. For example, CWT fish are marked and we send in heads based on being from a marked fish, so if there are more marked, but not with a CWT present, that means putting in heads without tags, and the stats would go awry.

The issue with epigenetics is increasing the number of returnees/spawners may lead to impacting wild chinook. The three main WCVI hatcheries are the Nitinat, Robertson Creek and Conuma River. Wild stocks are in great danger with the last total WCVI number that I recall is 6,000 fish. Clayoquot Sound has only 501 in a half dozen rivers. Add to this that chinook come back before our increasingly delayed fall rains occur, and thus, getting into the rivers is dicey. And transporting fish in trucks with tanks to major pools is costly.

Here are a few comments from the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan discussion:

1.     Alberni sockeye in collapse.
2.     Fraser sockeye number is 13 million, but many stocks of concern, may lead to selective fisheries.
3.     Overall a reduction of chinook will lead to measures to reduce catch by 25- to 35-%, with all science not yet in.
4.     Alaska will reduce its catch 10% and you will have heard that recreation harvest has been eliminated in northern BC’s large drainages as the DFO response.
5.     Decline in chinook numbers for Harrisons and summer 4-1s.
6.     The SFU paper on coast wide chinook declines suggests more catch reductions. This I think is a problem with the DFO approach: it reduces fisheries down and down, but doesn’t put the money into habitat restoration, seal culls, Salish Sea loading for plankton production and eliminating the herring roe fishery, oh and those fish farms that need to be put on land, for precautionary reasons.
Here is a quote on this issue, from DFO: ‘DFO: Given current trends, DFO is not comfortable maintaining current ERs.’ Rather than looking for other solutions. And another quote: ‘Removals includes fishery impacts only; predation is part of marine survival.’ Which is a way of saying we are looking only at reducing fisheries, not doing freshwater habitat, not culling seals.

7.     Jeremy Maynard is from Campbell River and summed it up this way: ‘…this is the worst situation in 23 years of SFAB participation, so the sector is in shock. DFO has not provided the necessary information to provide advice on 2018 measures, plus the short planning timeline add up to an appalling situation.’ I would add that I felt 2017 was the worst year for all species in the 40 years I have lived in BC. The discussion, by DFO, on this one simply moved on to catch reduction strategies and did not address the concern directly.
8.     Martin Paish commented on making recommendations without knowing the science: ‘It’s mind-boggling that we’re expected to provide advice by April 16 for measures that won’t go into effect before June, with incomplete information. For example, what is the point of a maximum size limit if it’s not applied to all other fisheries?’ DFO’s response was that everyone was in the same boat: ‘DFO needs the extra time to finalize the IFMP and Ottawa needs time to review, so any further delays would affect June 1 implementation.’

This sounds reasonable, but DFO has been criticized recently about its science work by the ENGO, Watershed Watch’s, science person, Stan Proboszcz:

9.     DFO intends to address interior steelhead numbers through rolling window closures. It was pointed out that this would negatively impact the Brown’s Bay chum fishery in early fall.

10.  Keogh River coho are being affected by seal predation.

11.  The Nanaimo SFAB presented a motion that would increase the forwarding of catch logs by guides/lodges in the area. Presently, returns of these documents have declined. Nanaimo also presented a motion to reduce the commercial catch of herring from 20% of biomass.

12.  Port Renfrew presented a motion, that passed, limiting the width from point to shank in single barbless hooks to 15 mm. The purpose of which is to reduce snagging chinook in the Nitinat in early fall.

13.  A motion was passed suggesting that DFO eliminate reductions in Cowichan chinook given three years of good numbers. My most recent figure is 23,000 for 2017, which is phenomenal, with high jack numbers suggesting that 2018 will also be a good year, in an otherwise difficult chinook picture.

14.  Halibut fishing has been poor in Juan de Fuca so far this year. In the past year, zero chinook returned to Goldstream and only 7 coho as broodstock.

15.  In Port Alberni it was recommended that the hatchery return to 12.5M smolts from the current 6.5M. And that DFO select the largest fish for broodstock. Also, that DFO take over funding the netpen in the Inlet, as it supports killer whales and has had a positive effect on returns.

16.  A project to raise marked coho for a fishery in the Gold River area, should return 10- to 20-thousand coho into Moutcha Bay, Conuma River this fall. Sounds like a good place to fish in a pontoon boat this fall. A motion was passed for 4 a day and 8 in possession.

17.  Regarding transportation of someone else’s fish, as the law will be loosened, a motion passed saying that a note with the angler’s signature should be sufficient to avoid being charged, with so doing. In good humour, Gerry Kristianson had this to offer: ‘In early June, I will be travelling to Victoria in possession of my limit and that of my son, who can’t travel with me so I invite DFO to charge me.’ Gee, I’d like to get a photo of this.

18.  Despite the issue of marked fish intermingling with CWT chinook with resultant statistical problems, a motion was passed: ‘Whereas Southern BC Chinook are scheduled to undergo a COSEWIC assessment in the fall of 2019; and, Whereas DFO is looking to reduce exploitation rates on some wild BC Chinook stocks; and, Whereas the use of a hatchery mark can be used as a possible management tool, Therefore be it resolved that starting in 2019 all hatchery Chinook production in Southern BC be marked with an Adipose Fin Clip(AFC).’

I think it is important to note here that the COSEWIC assessment shows just how bad the rehabilitation of these stocks has been by DFO, rather than habitat restoration, which is the solution, not continued fisheries reduction, which lead in only one direction: down to zero. Epigenetics of hatchery chinook shows an enlightened approach to genetic issues.

19.  A motion was passed saying that the SFAB is not going to provide Fraser chinook recommendations, until the science has been provided.
Here is the SFAB bottom line on Fraser chinook:
When developing Chinook management plans for 2018 the following points should be considered:

1. The SCSFAB acknowledges the current state of many Fraser Chinook populations but wants to know the overall plan to rebuild these stocks beyond cuts to fisheries, particularly as the recent planning requirements have superseded the SBC Chinook Strategic Planning Initiative. Component strategies could include strategic enhancement, predator control and water use issues.
2. That savings of Chinook in outside fisheries through reduced fishing opportunity must be passed through to the spawning grounds, not provide opportunities for greater harvest for other users.
3. The salmon allocation policy providing priority access for Chinook by the recreational fishery before commercial harvest must be fully respected.
4. Limits for Chinook should remain at 2 per day, 4 in possession away from home.
5. Identifiable hatchery origin fish should be exempt from any new measures (e.g. reduced limits, time and area or maximum size restrictions) intended to lower the exploitation rate on Fraser Chinook stocks of concern.
6. Reductions in Chinook harvest on stocks of concern made for other reasons (e.g. additional prey for SRKW) must be accounted for in the management regime intended to lower the ER on Fraser Chinook stocks of concern.
7. Allowance should be made for terminal area exceptions where Fraser River Chinook stocks of concern are not encountered. Examples are fisheries inside the surf line on WCVI and the Campbell River river mouth special management zone.
8. The management plan designed to meet the new ER objectives on Fraser Chinook stocks of concern must be sensitive to time and area considerations for these migratory fish i.e. additional restrictions must be made on a PFMA and monthly basis as they may not be required or relevant at all times.
9. The department must explain the rationale for requesting reductions when the exploitation rate already meets the requested parameters.