Sunday, 28 February 2016

Private Hatcheries?

An interesting think piece came my way this week from Eric Wickham. He notes that the number of salmon caught in every other jurisdiction on the Pacific coast vastly outnumbers our own. He goes on to say that the hatchery output of fry in these other jurisdictions also vastly outnumbers our own.

Wickham thinks that we should have Trudeau eliminate the law that only DFO can authorize hatcheries, and open it up so that others can start hatcheries – individuals, businesses, associations – increase our output numbers and bump our catch.

This is the graph that shows the catch by jurisdiction:


You will note the data is from the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission that Canada is part of. This is their website:, and the Commission is located in Vancouver.

And this is the hatchery output by nation, from the same source, 2014:

The big difference in hatcheries arises for a number of reasons. In BC, as DFO has authority, it has a budget ‘standard object’ for hatcheries – in the range of $20- to $25-Million. It is tossed into the Conservation and Protection budget, and problems arise.

In the budget process in Ottawa, DFO’s BC hatchery budget is considered a freebie – not a necessity – to bargain with while trading off east against west. BC is, until recently, the only province in Canada that has a sizeable hatchery system, although last year $4 Million was advanced in Atlantic Canada by then minister Gail Shea.

The reason for the low budget is because of the bargaining leading up to the Budget. It is also low because it is not considered on its own, but is rolled in with C&P – this came out of my discussion of Randy Nelson’s book Poachers, Polluters and Politics from Harbour Publishing – a good book, read it – and thus it loses budget to C&P as the process deals with both at the same time in the same budget.

As we all know, with DFO as gatekeeper, lots of on-the-ground projects don’t receive funding or fry, for various reasons, genetics, for example, being a sound reason. And we all know of netpen projects not being authorized, although it must be acknowledged that the pink volunteer streams from Nanaimo to Campbell River are a good source of fish for popular beach fisheries.

What happens in the States? Ah well, Wickham points out that: “Alaska caught 260 million salmon this year, while the numbers for British Columbia are less than 10 million. South of us, Washington State poured about a billion dollars into their hatcheries, and they get returns of about a billion dollars a year! Japan in warmer latitudes than BC catches 10 times as many salmon as we do.”

I would add that about a billion is spent on the Columbia for hatcheries, fish-ways and so on. Bonneville Power is a big contributor. I don’t know whether the Washington and Columbia spending overlap, but the result is still $20 Million in BC, compared with $1 Billion in Washington/Oregon.

‘Ocean ranching’ as prodigious output and catch is known – BC’s catch being 4% of the total – has Alaska pumping out more than a billion fry, particularly pink salmon that return one year from release, to prime its catch.

Alaska has features not found in BC:

·         Private, non-profit hatcheries to boost commercial, sport, subsistence and personal-use fisheries. Most hatcheries are owned by commercial fishing non-profit groups, with a few state facilities leased to non-profits;
·         Sport fish hatcheries for the sport sector; and,
·         Two federal research facilities, and a hatchery run by the Metlakatla First Nation.  

Wickham says this: “Open it up to nonprofit groups and First Nation people and others, like they do in Alaska. This wouldn't cost Canadian taxpayers anything, and we'd start getting a hugely increased share of beautiful wild salmon. We could even use the well-proven regulations from Alaska as a starting place to draft our own new law.”

I think it needs to be said that the genetic issue is real. It is widely accepted that the US hatcheries, many planting ‘springers’ (chinook that return in the spring, like the Nooksack and Samish fish. The Puntledge and Nanaimo here in BC have spring chinook, but they are wild fish) has reduced genetic diversity and homogenized gene pools by putting the same fish in dozens of rivers over a wide area of States. Springers return in the spring, but hold until the fall when they spawn, along with the typical summer chinook. We in Canada have avoided this problem.

The same can be said of the Alaska ocean-ranching of pinks. The overall genetic diversity in many Alaskan rivers has been degraded by putting out those billions of fry.

On another issue, climate change, Wickham points out that: “A paper published in the respected journal, science (Vol 342, issue 617) found that Pacific Ocean heat content has been significantly higher throughout the vast majority of the past 10,000 years, in comparison to [sic] the latter 20th century. Salmon have survived ocean changes from back before the ice ages and also regularly survive radical temperature change from their freshwater rivers to the middle ocean and back to the freshwater rivers.”

It should be added that climate change as we are experiencing it is not simply about water temperature. It includes long, hot dry summers with little water to allow salmon back up many rivers, the 2000 streams he mentions, for example. Still it is tantalizing to think of more hatcheries to put more fish in the ocean. And contacting Justin might do the trick, but I can tell you from doing so, you get put on the Liberal party donation list and then are hounded almost daily to donate. Hmm. 

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Q and As - February

Q: To give you an idea of the immensity of BC fish stocks in the 1920s, the following poundages come from one trawler working English Bay in Vancouver – today, you might trawl a pop can or two. From Bluebacks and Silver Brights: A Lifetime in the BC Fisheries from Bounty to Plunder, by Norman and Allan Safarik: 

120 lbs of halibut
2,500 lbs soles (only larger kept, smaller shoveled overboard)
800 lbs flounders (only those LESS than 8 lbs, kept)
500 lbs skates wings (cut off and rest thrown away)
100 lbs silver perch
100 lbs rock cod
40 lbs red squid
60 lbs octopus
50 lbs red snapper
1000 lbs of Pacific (grey) cod were pitched over the side to float away on the surface (this on first of 3 "tows")
150 lbs ling cod
5 sockeye salmon
3 large chinook salmon
All this fish was taken in one 30 minute drag near shore; and, 2 tons crabs (150 dozen kept, rest thrown overboard)

There were four trawlers out that day, and the captain hailed the others, asking: “Have any of you guys caught a grey cod? Any soles out there?”

Q: The South Vancouver Island Angler Coalition has a number of issues on its plate. Get your annual membership to help them help our cause:

Halibut: Martin Paish went to Alaska to the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting for BC sport fishers and returned with an increased total allowable catch (TAC) for 2016 of 7.3 million pounds an increase from the 2015 sport TAC of 7.03 million pounds. Thank you Martin and our Canadian contingent. What this means in the Victoria area is that we will likely be the last fishers on the water, as was the case last year, and we will probably be fishing halibut to the end of December once again.

Chinook: Our late spring early summer chinook fishery is dependent on those Fraser River 4-2s and 5-2s from the Interior. This is where you find the regs (not yet updated for 2016): Needless to say, the SVIAC is on the ground with suggestions.

Yelloweye, etc.: On the SVIAC plate for 2016 are: how the Species At Risk Act listing of Yelloweye Rockfish will impact our fishery on the north island, as well as on the central and north coast; making sure DFO integrates the new online fishing license catch survey data and that the data is sound; Fraser Chinook in Area 19/20, proposing management changes to improve and stabilize the fishery; angler safety in Areas 19/20 caused by intense commercial crab fishery, contact with lines, pots and floats; and, asking DFO to implement the Recreational Vision Implementation Plan, which would help us immensely by getting designated funds to Pacific DFO to better manage the fishery. 

Chinook Netpen: The Sooke River Chinook Revitalization Initiative is a key project, to place a netpen for chinook on behalf of local Killer Whales with some extra for fishers, too. See:   

The egg take was scuttled by weather, schools and fish movement in 2015, but the SVIAC looks forward to 500,000 later this year. The pen is $20,000 and any donation you wish to make toward it would be appreciated. See the site.

Derby: the Alpine Group Juan de Fuca Fishing Tournament is slated for June 18 and 19, with the weigh station at Pedder Bay RV Resort and Marina. There are only 500 tickets, so get them early, $200 each, or $150 for SVIAC members (in other words your membership of $40 ends up free if you do the derby).  The plan is to have the prize board exceed $100,000. 

Q: Sport Fish Advisory Board: The vision document is a big item for the SFAB, finally getting it attached to DFO and it actually being implemented, now that we have a new government. For the document, see: Gerry Kristianson is the current chair of the SFAB and you can direct queries to him through the board:

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Winter Steelheading - Gear

February is high season for winter steelhead fishing on Vancouver Island. The well-used rivers include the Cowichan, Stamp, Gold and Nimpkish. Any river with a hatchery has more fish than ones with wild runs. The Campbell is one that has a run of enhanced summer steelhead that has split, with one peak in late January. The Big Qualicum is an intimate river to get to know.

There are many more rivers with winter and summer steelhead, and your best bet is to get out and fish them, for no other angler will give up steelhead information unless you have something to trade. The more times you fish, the greater your knowledge, and thus the more fish you catch. It can take a decade to get to know your chosen rivers in detail. If you fly fish, join a club as they have fish outs and the people you meet have information to share.

The two important parts of your gear are rod and reel. You will need a 9.5- to 10.5-foot trigger finger rod, Rapala having good, reasonably priced rods, while Shimano, and Fenwick are higher-priced, better rods. Better rods have a smoothness that you can feel and enjoy in your trip to a river. The same can be said for better reels, Penn 965, Shimano, and Quantum. Treat yourself to quality gear.

Lay down 20- to 30-pound braided line as mainline for its longer casts. Tie 20 feet of 15- to -20-pound mono to the tag end. Slide on a dink float, putting the line through one hole, wrapping around the float and exiting the line through the lower hole. Tie a size 5 swivel to the bottom end and loosely crimp some pencil lead to the tag end. The point, in a hang up, is for the weight to pull free, preventing breaks above the swivel.

Leader test is 10- to 15- pound, 2- to 4- feet long, to which your terminal tackle is tied, typically a Gooey Bob, Spin-N-Glo, Jensen eggs, blades, or pink worm, and, when allowed, bait, usually cured salmon roe. Note that scent is not considered bait, and it makes sense to use an attractant. Longer leaders are not used because they tend to float up above the weight, out of the zone, and in moving water, fish don’t see the weight behind the lure. Dink floats have the advantages that they are easily adjusted sliding up or down the mainline mono to get your tackle down to the bottom.

How close to the bottom? Well, the expression, ‘if you are not losing some terminal gear, you are not fishing deep enough’, applies. Get to know the 3-D structure of the water you fish. Steelhead usually prefer 3- to 8-foot deep, walking speed runs, heads of pools and tails of pools. But they can be found anywhere, so if you are restricted to an area, by, for example, other anglers above or below you, fish the water you have. The Cowichan is a good example of this issue. Other rivers, the Stamp for instance, have lots of water that you pretty much need to fish with a pontoon boat or other water craft, where no one else, other than another angler with a vessel, can reach.

On the Stamp, for instance, you can put in just below the weir above Robertson Creek hatchery and float down to the Provincial Park. This is a long day, with lots of driving time, and yet is only one float on this long, productive system, that also has some hatchery fish for taking home. Note that Money’s Pool is an intermediate take out point in this long run. If you are up for it, carry your craft into the Falls Pool below the provincial park, a good 25 minutes, that if you do it once you will understand why the Watermaster inflatables that pack down into a packsack you carry on your back are your best bet. I’ve carried a pontoon boat into this stretch of river, and now have a Watermaster.

You want to get first fish water, the good thing being that you only need to be a half hour behind someone else and you are getting first water, because steelhead move around a lot, and come back on the bite at different times. So plan your strategy. Go to the best water first, then to runs that others may have vacated more than a half an hour before you.

There are two kinds of water: holding water, and pass-through water. The former often features a run, or rocks that have slower water around them, on the bottom or behind obstructions, usually rock features, where steelhead can stop and swim easily without expending a great deal of energy. Pass-through water means slow water that fish swim through on their way to faster water above, where they slow or hold in such water.

The inside of a bend is a good example of pass-through water, and on the Stamp, the huge pool at the bottom of the Gun Club run is an example, the far side being the inside bend, and fish migrate slowly up and through the pool. Having said this, if you are a shore angler on foot, the outside of this bend gives up fish, too, particularly coho in the fall. On lower water, the opposite side above the pool is the run, and one of several hundred yards long – a good bet.

The way you plumb a run makes it obvious why a float setup is the best approach. You swing a cast above you, keep your rod tip high in the air, and mend your line, meaning you keep line in the air between rod tip and float. So, you reel in line as the float comes down to your position and payout line once it passes downstream. The purpose is to have a pattern for fishing all fishy territory, in one-foot increments from your side to the far side.

On cold days you plumb the water longer – more casts down the same strip – because steelhead are cold and will not move far to intercept your offering. Even a dozen times for the same slice of water is not too many. On warmer days, however, steelhead will often take your lure the first time it comes down upon them. So it makes no sense to fish and fish a run, rather keep moving to other runs. The more water you cover the greater your chances of catching a steelhead. A water craft can make all the difference, particularly the far side where there is no trail for shore anglers, because you are always on the move and cover water no one else can reach.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Salmon Outlook 2016

DFDO’s outlook on salmon numbers, upon which sport opportunities depend, is now out for 2016. See:

The gist is that fishing is not going to be as good this year as it was last year. Crunched into one paragraph: 91 Outlook Units were considered and outlooks categorized for 84. 29 OUs are likely to be at or above target abundance (categories 3, 4, 3/4), while 32 are expected to be of concern (categories 1, 2, 1/2). The remaining 23 OUs have mixed outlook levels (categories 1/3, 1/4, 2/3, 2/4). Overall, the outlook for 2016 has declined relative to the previous outlook. 11 OUs improved in category.

The good news for Van isle is that WCVI chum will be good as will Alberni sockeye. The Stamp/Sproat will have a historical average sockeye return, which is typically 650,000 – with fisheries authorized when 200,000 have returned to the terminal area. Last year is was a phenomenal 2 million, and 1.8 the previous year. So the fish will be there in June if you care to tote your boat over the Alberni summit. The Chilko and Nechako comprise the healthy sections of the Fraser run this year with better sockeye numbers in northern BC. You may have heard that the Cultus lake sockey/cutthroat tested positive for the European strain of ISA, not a good thing.

We don’t typically take boats to the west coast in search of chum, but the Fraser run is expected to be 1,200,000 fish – an average run, but recent returns have been trending up. Thus your chances at the Brown’s Bay chum madness Sept/Oct fishery will have enough fish, if you care to tow just north of Campbell River. If you have never done this one, it is a bucket list item for saltwater trollers. Happily, the fishing is best on a blue sky, high pressure day and you and another 75 boats will be looking for the flood, with lines going off everywhere and a few crossed en route to full boats for everyone.

Inside chum in both Johnstone Strait and Georgia will generally be on target, so terminal, or in-river surpluses may occur. This includes the Cowichan where two years ago there was a commercial harvest of some of the plus 400,000 chum in saltwater.

In the Juan de Fuca and Victoria area, there is no pink fishery as this is an even year, meaning zero for the Fraser. However, Puget Sound has pinks in both even and odd years, so you may catch a few out in the Strait as they cross over from our shores. And most July coho are from the Sound as well.

Generally speaking, climate change and an El Nino, with the ‘Warm Blob’ out in the Pacific keeping waters too warm for highest production and ocean survival, results in depressed numbers. Likely this will be a high year for sockeye diversion down Johnstone Strait rather than Juan de Fuca. The chinook runs for coastal USA will be depressed for similar reasons. You will have heard that low water and competition between fish and farmers in California has made for difficult salmon conditions for spawning, and fry.

Johnstone Strait pink runs are higher in even number years, so fly/gear fishing the beaches from the Campbell to the Quatse is a good bet this year. 2014 was a phenomenal year and 2016 fish are the progeny of 2014. For shore-bound anglers, think the Campbell. It has far out-produced its historical numbers of pinks in recent years since the spawning impediment on the Quinsam was removed. Note also that the river has sections for all gear types, a good reason to show up on its shores.

This is the link to the saltwater fishing Areas of BC:

In our area, 19 and 20, the Fraser chinook comprise the fish we want to catch in June to September. The spring and summer 4-2s and 5-2s are all category 2, and this year the fall 4-1s are also 2 with modest improvements over last year’s number of chinook. However, the summer 4-1s returned 170,000 fish – to give you an idea of the numbers we are talking about.

In our area, we would like to see some hatchery work on the chinook that comprise our summer fishing. That means Fraser River and to a lesser extent, the Cowichan that remains depressed (and do note that there are spring springs in the Cowichan, a tiny 200 fish). A bright spot this summer is the WCVI hatchery chinook (Conuma, Robertson Creek and Nitinat) will be at target; this means a trip to the five Sounds may be on your itinerary for the summer. These fish tend to slop over to Port Renfrew, but not to the Sooke/Victoria area.

As we are not looking at substantial hatchery work for the Fraser’s at this time, the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition’s move toward net pen chinook, may result in better summer fishing in years to come. The purpose is to do our part to help the Killer Whales, and have some fish left over for us. Do pony up your $40 annual membership to help our cause. The net pen would have been in last summer, but egg collection at the Nitinat suffered due to climate, chum timing and the chinook bolting up the river with the first rains.

You land-based anglers can look at some opportunities for all three areas. So consider taking a trip to the hatchery rivers in September. For those inclined further afield, and ka-ching, the Bella Coola and Phillips river chinook look good this summer.

Coho fishing in the CRD will be hohum for Canadian fish. Think hatchery marked fish. Fraser coho are not doing well. And the Georgia coho indicators streams – Black Creek, and Cowichan – do not suggest much on the inside. Let’s hope that the Salish Sea project of the Pacific Salmon Foundation can get to the bottom of this one. You may have noticed that while their seal ‘beanies’ and acoustic smolt tags indicated not much predation on coho, the most recent UBC work has suggested a much higher rate of fry predation by harbour seals.

Coho returns in the north have been good in the last year and that trend looks to repeat this summer.