Sunday, 22 February 2015

Sport Fishing Advisory Board – Final Minutes – Jan, 2015

The Sport Fishing Advisory Board is saltwater sport anglers’ connection with the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It is a large board with representation from all areas of the province’s saltwater sport fishers. It is worthwhile your reading this document as it summarizes and advances sport fishing issues and interests.  I can send a copy to anyone who wants it, and the DFO contact is Devona Adams:

The other documents that to some extent pair with this are DFO’s annual Integrated Fishery Management Plans, one for northern BC and one for the south. These reports are technical and include a lot of the science that helps explain decisions reached. They are typically 150 pages long. The SFAB document meat is its first 25 pages.

You can find out issues in your fishing area, for example, the Fraser 4-2 and 5-2 chinook that affect south Vancouver Island fishing in late spring and early summer, along with interior Fraser coho. But also covered are rockfish, freshwater salmon fishing, halibut, sport fishing and pipeline/tanker traffic, prawns, etc. One of the etceteras this year was DFO’s reinterpretation of ‘transportation’ of salmon catches that has impacted both anglers and our attendant processing sector.

Another related item is the large commercial industry that operated 24 hours per day in the Port Renfrew area to the detriment of First Nations and recreational harvest. Typically, this has been one of the reasons for tourist anglers making the hour and a half trek from Victoria west on Highway 14. Anglers support Port Renfrew for the Owen Point chinook, Nitinat Bar, Swiftsure Bank, Deep Hole and Juliet Buoy fisheries. The town, aboriginals and anglers would like the bay reserved, as it has been in the past, for non-commercial crabbing.

The Minutes document the many motions that are passed and sent to DFO as recommendations for action. DFO sits on the board with dedicated staff and resources so it is our conduit to decision makers. To remain informed, you should read it.

Here is one item:

Recreational Vision concept paper: Perhaps the most fundamental item is establishing, with attendant budgetary resources and staff, the Vision seeks to establish with certainty, the agreed upon overarching perspective with DFO for sport fishing in BC. To give you an idea of how important BC is: we are only one province of seven that have salmon, but we have more than 99% of all the salmon in Canada. Stated another way, the six provinces that have Atlantic salmon, half of the country, have only 0.2% of the salmon.

BC deserves focussed attention and a dedicated budget line. Here is the portion of the minutes related to the item:  

·         Thomas: Youth involvement is a key challenge for maintaining a healthy recreational fishery.
·         Franzen: The province’s participation has been virtually non-existent.
o   Kristianson: Provincial participation has been challenging, given their organizational challenges, but the plan is to further engage them once federal commitment is clearer.  
·         Franzen: Concern about establishing a corporate version of SFAB.
·         Cole: Applaud the Executive’s effort on this.
·         Bird: Other jurisdictions like Australia can offer useful models.
o   Ahearn:  It would it be helpful to more clearly describe the proposed governance model.
o   Kristianson: The concern is that too much emphasis on that upfront would further delay approval.
o   Bird: You can say that what’s proposed is not new but enhanced, as structures already exist to manage the funds.
o   Ahearn: The Freshwater Fisheries Society is an example – the external fund was established, but the same ministry people still ended up running it.
·         Kristianson: Many of the proposed activities already exist (e.g. catch monitoring) although some of them could be carried out differently. What is being proposed is a new program within DFO – as it would be easier to achieve consensus around that.
·         Protheroe: Commend the work done and support it 100%. I wonder how we deliver to government that this is a concept and that what we are seeking is to move forward with government in deciding how to develop and implement it. Maybe that could be made clearer in a cover letter.
o   Kristianson: We would present this to senior staff, who would then be charged with developing the appropriate format for taking that through government.
·         Maynard: Commend the work done.
·         Wilbee: Note the significant progress made. This is the first step of an entirely new way of doing business and it would be helpful to document all the lessons learned via the history of this board. Also support keeping the Province on the sidelines for a bit. The Community Futures review found it was the most effective program run by the federal government. Having a budget line item is crucial to the success of any program.
·         Brookman: I was there at the start and it’s been an exciting initiative.
·         Maynard: The proposed acceptance motion assumes that the Executive will incorporate additional advice received.

The SFAB has been behind the vision concept for some years to get it established with DFO in Ottawa that sport fishing is big in BC. Yes, it would amount to a new way of doing business, and a reasonable request, our having 99% of all the salmon in Canada.

The above text is the discussion from only one item. If you want to know what your representatives are doing for your fishing in BC, read the whole document. A good investment of an hour.

Dolly Varden Char and Searun Cutthroat Trout

Dolly Varden and Searun Cutthroat seem to occupy the same niche and thus should have very similar behaviour. Dollies are, in their ocean phase, so silvery it is hard to get a decent photograph because they are inevitably over exposed. But in that surface will be the faint yellow and pink spots that become so prominent when the fish have been in freshwater for some time, and turned blue. Searuns are less silvery in the ocean and with the dark spots above and below the lateral line, along with their namesake – an orange ‘slash’ under each side of their ‘chin’, or throat.

Behaviourally both salmonid species could not be more different. Searuns are more widespread in Van Isle waters, while Dollies are predominantly found in waters to the North of Campbell River a more limited range on our island. On the mainland side, the drainages can have large numbers of Bull Trout a related char species that can reach 11 pounds. I have never caught a Dolly on a WCVI stream, but have not fished them all – yet.

Both Searuns and Dollies are typically under two pounds though the occasional one may reach four pounds. There are credible accounts of the rare Searun reaching 7 pounds. And cutthroat do have freshwater non-anadromous resident cousins, though in our waters the same cannot be said of Dollies (and no Bulls either).. Cameron Lake, for example, has given up cutthroat in the low teens and the record is a 41 pound behemoth from Pryamid Lake on the mainland.

But in Puget Sound drainages, I have watched with veiny teeth Dollies sit just above the fishing boundary in the Cascade River. Large fish of five to ten pounds were clearly visible but zero below the marker. There they rested, the main-stem Skagit below being turbid and salmon filled. These may have been resident fish, due to their size, distance from saltwater and presence in an area of large urban populations.

Both species have salt- and fresh-water phases. In saltwater, Searuns are typically found as opportunistic nomads cruising from creek mouth to creek mouth. Virtually always they are found in water three, or less, feet deep, which makes them key species for some fly guys that make their living targeting these fish by moving from stream to stream in a day’s fishing. Fish half an hour, and if a Searun is not spotted, move on to the next stream on your list. Searuns inevitably reveal themselves rolling on the surface even when there is no apparent feed – insects in saltwater being rare.

As a diminutive trout, it makes sense for Searuns to be in very shallow water where larger mouths that would eat them seldom venture. A safe niche for a small fish that, like steelhead, are too bold for their own good. The adage is: if you see them you will catch them, and that includes putting a fly more than ten feet away from the fish. They are on the move and biting. That’s why we like them. Bazan Bay in Sidney being just one well-known Searun spot in our area. One wades in and casts a fly.

Dollies on the other hand tend to spend time among the kelp and divers often see them tooling around. This means they are more dominant than Searuns because such water can be as much as 60 feet deep and the ling and other large mouths need be avoided. But Dollies live among them, a distinct difference, different feed, different dominance and wariness.

Searuns are vastly more opportunistic than Dollies, coming into estuaries daily. While they have months of preference, including summer, arriving just before salmon, and eating eggs during the spawn. They also can arrive in much larger schools than Dollies. Searuns are also opportunistic in terms of spawning, and may spawn anywhere from January to September, in small streams off main-stems when rain allows. Anglers need to know Searun habits in a dozen drainages to have good fly fishing on an annual basis. Much knowledge. Oh and it is quite common in the Victoria area to find these fish at mid-tide levels.

Dollies tend to enter estuaries just after the ebb when the flood begins to push. While they may enter at such times in large schools, they are more like chinook that happen to be in the same place as other chinook, not because they school, but because the structure and feed draw them to a definable spot at the same time.
Once on-shore, Dollies will be seen frequently on the surface, typically sipping at or whacking whatever freshwater hatch is flowing out at the same time. Keep a Tom Thumb for such times, and back up as the fish enter, keeping them below you. They will whack the dry fly to smithereens and keep on whacking it even though, with floatant, it looks like a blob.

Minnow patterns will work for both species in estuarial situations, including epoxy minnows, amphipods, along with handle bar flies and a standard Mickey Fin for Searuns. A standard Muddler will do for both, but once in freshwater, Dollies have a preference for blue, not a first choice for Searuns. Dollies seldom hit pink in saltwater.

Both species spawn in freshwater. Dollies come in for this purpose in late summer and hold until the water temperature, in October, hits 10 degrees. After spawning they tend to mass at the bottom of deep pools, surprisingly staying out of the way and hesitant, until spring where they move back to saltwater.

Searuns, on the other hand, typically winter in saltwater, entering freshwater for feeding and spawning, based on the system’s calendar. You will often see them in spring, keeping close to spawning steelhead. They hybridize with summer steelhead, presumably because they spawn sooner than winter steelhead, and in systems where there are fewer summers. Then Searuns go back to saltwater after being found more than ten miles above the salt during the spawn.

Cuttbows have behaviour that is a mix of steelhead and cutthroat. They definitely will chase and out whack what a cutthroat will hit – the casting pattern for cutthroat is every two feet, and based on woody debris, whereas cuttbows are found with rocks as well as logs and the last 30 degrees of the swing, more like steelhead.  And orange is a colour of preference, and why, as I have mentioned, I tie simple orange marabou Rats along with Popsicle style marabou red over orange over yellow.

You can tell the percentage of cutthroat or steelhead – they can hybridize over several generations – the fish has in it. More steelhead and the fish will jump several times. More cutthroat and the fish will seldom leave the water, preferring to dive. At 50/50 the fight is on the surface.

And Dollies have a habit, also suggesting dominance, of one fish dashing in to hit a female salmon in the side, resulting in disgorged eggs that the other Dollies scarf up. This behaviour has led, not on Van Isle, some anglers to make a point of killing all Dollies on the grounds they result in fewer salmon. Never seen this myself, and certainly would not kill a Dolly, but it is a common tale.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Steelhead Management and the Big Q

Steelhead Management: The Provincial Framework for Steelhead Management in BC is in an updated draft form on line and you may make comments until Feb 18, 2015 at this site: You may read the report at:

The purpose is to provide the high level conceptual framework that managers will use in fisheries’ management in specific areas, so the whole province does things the same way. The document acknowledges that it is based on wild steelhead as the basis for the fisheries, rather than enhanced stocks, the Stamp River, for instance, which has both wild and hatchery steelhead.

If this is an important subject for you, there are several previous documents that you may like to read as well: the Steelhead Summit and Caucus Follow-up 2008-2009; the Greater Georgia Basin Steelhead Recovery Action Plan 2002; and Thompson River recovery initiatives (Thompson River Steelhead: A Resource in Crisis? SFU Workshop 1998; Independent Review of the Science and Management of Thompson River Steelhead 2014). The materials from these various undertakings have been reviewed in the development of the document to assist in identifying priority issues and strategies.

I summarized the framework some time ago, and you can reread it here:

Big Qualicum River: The Big Q is a classic, intimate steelhead/trout/salmon river on Vancouver Island. It has several important features that make it a river to get to know. First, the valley was never logged, so it is one of the few that shows what all island rivers should look like, rather than the lunar landscapes many suffer, the San Juan, for instance. Second, tall trees provide a year-round canopy important for keeping its temperature cool, particularly in summer. Next, it flows out of a lake – Horne – and this gives it a more consistent volume, in this case there is also a weir at the outlet to help regulate flow. Added to this is a water fall just below the lake that gives it ten clicks of relatively low gradient flow, something that is good for fish and fry. It also means that you have a defined amount of water within which you will find fish; this means you can slot information into your mental calendar with assurance that your conclusions are likely right.

The Big Q is so fertile that its gravel is scarified from time to time. This controversial practice has as its purpose ‘cleaning’, removal and redeposit of gravel into the course, providing lots of spawning ground. A big tractor goes into the river and does the deed, an out of date technique for some who would like scarification to cease or, at least be limited to certain portions of the river, leaving other sections natural. Natural means algae, insects, fry and adults being left alone to do their business.

Also of importance, is that there is a road, limited to walking (as in, no vehicles) that gives access to the river’s entire length. This allows the angler, and fly is preferred (do look at the regulations before you fish, for time, gear and species conditions), to dip in here and there and amble along, and over the course of many years come to know this special river. Then there are the fish: typically chinook, coho and chum in the fall, winter and summer steelhead and sea run cutthroat trout. In addition, in my years fishing, I have seen rainbows to two pounds spawning in the spring. Because this river is so short and because these fish are not found all year round, I suspect these represent residualized rainbows that have a saltwater phase, but close by, not out to the ocean as the larger steelhead do.

Also take a look at the straight-line man-made channel intended primarily for chum salmon. Its flow can be regulated from the small in-river dam at its top end, which also prevents fish from rising higher, although they can divert around the bottom end in the river’s main channel.

There is a major hatchery at the bottom end, accessed near the First Nation property at the estuarial end of the river. See this for my discussion of the 2013 egg and fry activities for the major Van Isle hatcheries:

The Big Q put out 4.65 million chinook in 2014, along with 49.97 million chum fry (mainly from the special channel) and .6 million coho. Also take a look at the Living Genebank Steelhead program, that used an enlightened approach to ‘naturally’ enhance the wild steelhead in the nearby, Little Qualicum, as well as the Quinsam and Keogh: The purpose was to help nature by catching wild fry as they left the river, raising them in the Duncan hatchery to maturity, when they were spawned. The progeny went back into the rivers, and the program was only intended to operate for three cycles, for genetic reasons. See:

Take your time getting to know the Island rivers that you fish. A decade’s worth of fishing 12 months of the year will reveal fish, plant and animal information that is a great satisfaction to know. For example, it came to me recently that one of my rivers passed through a special, small sockeye run as fry backing down from a stream into the main-stem on their out migration. It dawned on me that epoxy minnow flies would be the fly of choice for several months for a mile below the confluence. And it worked. Good fishing.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Q and As – January 2

Salmon East and West: In putting together a piece for the Pacific Salmon Foundation, it crossed my mind that one indication of the importance of the BC salmon fishery to Canada would be to compare the number of wild Pacific salmon with the wild Atlantic salmon.

I was stunned to find out that in 2012 the entire Atlantic salmon numbers for all of North America was only 170,000 adults. That is the entire number from six provinces (half the country) and the State of Maine. The entire number has not exceeded the minimum conservation limit of 213,000 adults (termed 2SW for spending winters in saltwater, i.e. no grilse) for 23 years. And even in the early ‘70s, before the precipitous decline, the entire run was typically below 900,000.

Here is the report with graph. Do look:

In BC, I have not found a good source document from DFO for wild Pacific salmon. I settled in one snowy winter day – okay it wasn’t snowing, but those deer eating my tulips had gotten me steamed – and went through all the rivers and areas in BC and came up with, in an average year, 86 million wild Pacific Salmon in BC, only one province in Canada. In a good year, I would say 100 million is in the ball park.

So the east coast ‘fishery’ for Atlantic Salmon is, at .18%, far less than one percent of the BC fishery. By comparison, the Campbell River pink run, since the Quinsam spawning barrier was removed, is about one million fish. The sockeye run in Port Alberni has exceeded one million fish for several years. In fact, many chum runs on the island far exceed all the Atlantic salmon on the east coast.

I have fished in a year that the Nitinat was 1.8 million (1.2 million taken in aboriginal nets) and with 650,000 chum we got soaked to the skin just floating through schools that bolted as only chum can bolt. And the artificial spawning channel in the Big Qualicum regularly returns 100,000 chum to that river. The Cowichan terminally returned, before a mop up commercial fishery two years ago, 400,000 chum. These are regular events.

In other words, there really is no comparison between the two coasts of Canada, and little wonder that carbon 14 dating of west coast cedar a millennium old (BC and Alaska) shows that 14% of the carbon in them originates from salmon carcasses taken up into the forest by bears, wolves and other animals.

Oh, and in BC, DFO et al put out about 600 million fry per year. In Atlantic Canada, there has been no Salmon Enhancement Program. Atlantic numbers are more comparable to our steelhead numbers. Our steelhead had their origin in the Atlantic and are more like Atlantics in behaviour. They began migrating west in warm weather periods more than a million years ago, and then came to be only on the west coast because of cold weather cycles.

For 2015, DFO, for the first time, has put $4 million toward enhancement in the east.

Ocean Survival: Bruce Morrison queried me on the meaning of the term ocean survival of salmon. It is a term that has more than one meaning. In loose terms, it doesn’t mean much, other than estimating the fish in the river this year, and comparing the number with past numbers, particularly the brood year. If numbers are high, this is taken as meaning good ocean survival because more fish survived to come back.

But the problem is that science has suggested that salmon migrate out into the ocean in as precise a pattern as they do coming back to spawn within 100 metres of where they were hatched. In other words, without doing the science to measure the ocean in a systematic grid, some rivers can return high numbers and some low, indicating both low and high ocean survival at the same time, and thus not be useful.

The other meaning of ocean survival is stricter and it does indicate that science has been done to monitor the ocean and correlate it with salmon numbers. If you look at the sources of the Salmon Outlook and the Integrated Fishery Management Plans you can find the references to follow up.

Good survival typically indicates higher ocean wind patterns, the Aleutian decadal weather cycle, for instance, and colder water temperature. High wind pushes surface waters aside and brings up nutrients resulting in vastly higher phytoplankton numbers that are the base of the food chain, producing chlorophyll. Photos of the ocean can show the vastly increased numbers, typically where plumes of freshwater from rivers carries iron oxide, a rate determining metal, and where weather has been bad.

The second problem is that we tend to use both the loose and strict definitions at the same time, and so it is often debatable whether ocean survival has actually been good or bad. And, of course, a La Nina is a cold water event, but an El Nino is a warmer water event, associated with lower salmon numbers.

Another wrinkle is that we assume higher ocean survival based on the relative presence or absence of jacks, and for chinook, 3-year old fish that come back with the run. The Cowichan, for instance, returned 4,000 chinook jacks in 2013, indicating a higher run of mature fish in 2014.

SFAB Minutes Port Renfrew: Probable ocean survival for 2015 is discussed in a PDF by Ian Perry, and Marc Trudel, You can get it from them.

Their presentation showed that 2014 temperatures were as much as 4 degrees centigrade higher than records from 1981 – 2013, which they note is: HUGE. (PDF page 5). Warm surface water of low density (low salinity) prevented nutrients being brought to the surface and, hence, low chlorophyll production.

This water moved east and clearly shows warm water pushed up against Alaska, BC and the lower Pacific States (P7). But growth rates for coho show conflicting predictions (P15). The references will give you the science behind ocean survival, i.e., in the strict sense of the expression.