Sunday, 14 December 2014

Salmon Outlook – Netpens for Killer Whales

Salmon Outlook: DFO has released its Salmon Outlook for 2015, a summary of stock numbers for the entire province and all five species of salmon. I have attached the PDF to the email sent to list members. Numeral 1 is a weak stock, while numeral 4 indicates a strong stock.

Their summary is:

A total of 91 Outlook Units were considered and outlooks categorized for 84. Six units were data
deficient (ND), and one pink unit was not applicable (NA). Thirty eight (38) Outlook Units are
likely to be at or above target abundance (categories 3, 4, 3/4), while 28 are expected to be of some conservation concern (categories 1, 2, 1/2). The remaining 18 Outlook Units have mixed outlook levels (categories 1/3, 1/4, 2/3, 2/4). Overall, the outlook for 2015 has inmproved relative to the previous outlook (2014 for most species but 2013 for pink). Fourteen (14) Outlook Units improved in category (Areas 7 to 10 sockeye; Fraser Spring 42, Fraser Spring 52 and Fraser Summer 52 chinook; Area 3, Area 12, Haida Gwaii East, Skeena and Skeena High Interior coho; Areas 11 to 13 and Areas 3 to 6 pink; Areas 11 to 13, Georgia Strait and Areas 7 to 10 chum). Eight units declined in category (Early Stuart, Early Summer North Thompson, Fall Portage and Fall South Thompson sockeye; WCVI Hatchery chinook; WCVI coho; Georgia Strait West pink; WCVI chum).

Here is my summary of the 24 page document:

Sockeye: Fraser sockeye runs returning average or better, i.e., some harvestable numbers, include the Okanagan, Early Summer South Thompson, Summer Chilko (often a high component of the run, that will exceed its average level of 1.55 million), Summer Nechako (568,000 on average), Summer Quesnel, Summer Harrison, Fall South Thompson, Fall Birkenhead, with five year old sockeye from the extremely large 2010 run contributing to 2015 escapements. It looks like some fishing opportunities in Georgia Strait, and, depending on water temp, Juan de Fuca, with action required for low stocks like Cultus Lake.

Anglers will be glad to know that Port Alberni’s Somass sockeye (particularly the Sproat) are rated at 4, and thus spring action looks likely; as does the Port Hardy area for Quatse and some Nimpkish fish. Surprisingly, Rivers Inlet, its Owikeno run drastically depressed since the early ‘90s – once the second largest commercial fishery in BC, in some years higher than the Skeena/Nass – have showed some improvement in recent years, but unlikely to continue in 2015.

Chinook: Fraser 4-2s (Spius, Coldwater, Bonaparte) and 5-2s (Lower Chilcotin, Westroad, Birkenhead) that have disrupted Juan de Fuca June fisheries in the past few years show patchy minor improvement; ditto for Fraser Summer 4-1s, including the Harrison, with the Vedder looking better.

WCVI chinook from hatchery systems (Conuma, Robertson Creek, Nitinat) will offer medium numbers of fish to be caught in Nootka and Barkley sounds (no estimate of Marble Creek numbers for NWCVI and Quatsino).  Disappointingly, Cowichan chinook, the indicator stream for the Pacific Salmon Commission, continues below average (2,400 adults, 1,100 jacks as of October 22).

Coho: Fraser coho are below average in numbers but improving. WCVI wild coho will be in average numbers. Port Hardy area rivers will bring above average returns. Quinsam returns for the Campbell River area should provide fishable numbers, too.

Don’t fall off your chair just yet, but Georgia Strait coho (that crashed in the late ‘80s) to Black Creek, an indicator stream, and Cowichan coho are above the levels of recent years. Northern BC numbers are good in most locations for 2015.

Pinks: Fraser pinks should greatly exceed the average number of 13.4 million for odd-numbered years. The 2014 fry output exceeded 604 million – the average is 443 million. So the easiest salmon to catch should flood local waters in the coming summer.

Fly anglers who do the beach fishery thing, from Campbell River to Port Hardy, the even-numbered year prevails and thus angling should be decidedly average in 2015. South of Campbell River, volunteer netpen operations have shown wildly fluctuating returns. Shore anglers should sleuth in-season information before setting out for the Cowichan to Salmon Point terminal netpen runs.

Chum: Fraser chum numbers have been variable in the past few years, hovering near 1 million fish (should be double that for a healthy return). Current fishing plans are uncertain. Don’t expect large numbers in WCVI waters. Fishable numbers should return on ECVI in 2015. So the Brown’s Bay fishery should be on in 2015 and in terminal ECVI estuaries.

Chemical Contaminants in killer whales: During the South Vancouver Island Angler Coalition/Sport Fishing Advisory Board meeting last Thursday it was noted that though our area has not received netpens for chinook salmon that we have proposed for several years, DFO seems to have accepted our representatives’ suggestion that local waters need numerous netpens for chinook. Our fishery is largely USA chinook, and it would show wisdom on all our collected selves to put some BC, probably Nitinat, chinook in the ocean as our help for the endangered southern killer whales in our waters, with an excess for angling, too.

Recently the Raincoast Conservation Foundation did an op-ed in the Times Colonist newspaper, suggesting that fishing should be terminated because it kills killer whales in the Salish Sea. I sent them emails to point out, among other things, that low chinook numbers in Georgia are really the result of low Cowichan chinook because they stay inside and thus are the fish of preference in the winter. Enhancement efforts need improvement. So coming netpens look to be a big help in the ‘Salish Sea’.

It was also pointed out by Jeremy Maynard, an SFAB chairman from Campbell River, that the issues withy the southern killer whales are largely the result of chemical contaminants. I found a really good, succinct discussion of the issue and suggest that everyone read it:

It does indeed show that contaminant levels of these peak predators – POPs, PCBs, dioxins, furans, etc. –  are very high; however, southern killer whales can have levels as much as four times higher than northern pods. The main problems are reproductive failure and immuno-suppression so the animal gets a disease. This may explain the dead female killer whale found near Courtenay with a near-term fetus in the past week. 
Necropsy to come. Inside Chinook, the preferred prey animal, have much higher levels of chemicals than those found in northern BC waters. And during summer months, killer whales eat more mature chinook, with lower fat levels and thus have to eat more contaminated prey than northern populations.

Also, oil spills have a great effect on marine mammals because they apparently do not smell them, and thus do not avoid the area. After the Exon Valdez spill in 1989 one northern pod lost 33% of its members in one year, after being filmed eating in a spill. Another pod, also so filmed, lost 41% of its members in one year, due to toxicity of ingested oil. Its reproductive success has been zero since 1989 and they approach extinction.

What we anglers can do is chip in and help out our killer whales by putting more chinook in the sea. Eliminating oil spills would help them breed. Also, there is research on this issue by Drs. Dick Beamish and Brian Riddell that you can look into.

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