Sunday, 29 May 2016

To Mark or Not To Mark

Jeff Betts: [Compared with the USA] You say we hatch more for less money, but not all chinook....and you say 'Canada marks few, while in the States high numbers are marked, meaning cut off adipose fin, but no tag. ' Does that mean we Canadians release unmarked fish from hatcheries? Given the regs specify marked and unmarked limits that seems strange....?

A: Yes, we produce more than 500 million salmon fry of the five species for about $25 Million – and virtually all are unmarked. The Washington budget for operating is about $65 Million and they produce about 150 million fry (coho, chinook and steelhead). 

There are caveats: Washington is only one of four states producing fry; the USA spends far more cumulatively, Washington State having about a billion in aging infrastructure while in BC, although with far fewer hatcheries, I don’t think there is a document yet that tots up infrastructure needs. 

I surmise the reason for no capital budget is, unfortunately, that the Salmon Enhancement Program budget is erroneously put in DFO’s Conservation and Protection Branch budget, and thus gets whittled down as a bargaining chip when divvying up the cross-Canada protection money at budgeting time. 

Up until the end of 2015 when Gail Shea put $4-million into east coast Atlantic salmon hatcheries, only BC had a hatchery system, and thus we got criticized for good treatment that no one else got; another instance of the east and Ottawa not understanding BC and how central salmon are to our culture. You may recall that my estimate is that BC has 99.8% of Canada’s salmon while six eastern provinces – half the country – total .2% of the salmon, and it is easy to see why points of view might differ, and unfortunately, budgets are decided in the east.  

Returning to west coast comparisons: Alaska puts out 1.5 billion pink salmon alone in an average year. ‘Ocean Ranching’ it is called, meaning flood the ocean with pinks and it will return large numbers the following year. The commercial catch numbers from 2015 are staggering: 263.5 million fish, comprised of 474,000 Chinook, 15.2 million chum, 3.6 million coho, 190.5 million pink and 54 million sockeye. I don’t have their hatchery cost figures, but this system is criticized for homogenizing gene pools across many watersheds, and putting too many predators in the ocean after the same amount of food.

I don’t have figures for Oregon and California. My recollection is that work on the Columbia is in the billion range, but that would have double counting of Washington costs in it. And comparing the two systems, with the figures I have, is comparing apples and cumquats.

The reason for marking chinook in BC is that they are in our waters 12 months of the year, are the mainstay of the sport fishery, are in lesser numbers than other species and we want to know where they are from. The other four species are pass through fish for a max of two months in the year, and here only as adult fish.

As for marking, there is less in Canada, and largely for chinook. The main purpose is to get return figures from the heads with tags in them turned into DFO for analysis – which fish is from where. In Puget Sound, the main purpose in marking is to provide a sport fishery, rather than return information. Both systems protect wild fish. As mentioned, we are authorized to fish for Puget Sound chinook under the Pacific Salmon Commission.

And yes, the vast majority of our hatchery fish are unmarked. Marking has a cost and a marking plant costs a million bucks, and that’s a stumbling block. I have witnessed marking coho by hand, and it is costly to mark a lot of fish – and these were not tagged, as in a coded wire inserted into a head.

Most of Juan de Fuca, and Haro Strait has marked Puget Sound chinook in the winter months – up to 80%. Cowichan chinook migrate north and then circle Georgia Strait before leaving for the ocean hence, with some migrating through Johnstone Strait, their addition to Victoria area fisheries is low.

Turning to retention limits, we have slot limits, meaning from a set shortest length fish to a set longest length fish. In Victoria, the short length is 45 cm, while north of Cadboro Point, it is 62. The Victoria long length is 67. The purpose is to protect wild fish, 3 years and, at this time in the annual calendar, four year and older chinook on spawning missions, from both BC and Washington. We have mature chinook in our waters eight months of the year from March through to October from both BC and Washington State.

This year’s current regulation for Cadboro Point to Sheringham Point (expect this to change), from March 1 to June 17 is: “Daily limit of 2 chinook: Wild or hatchery marked between 45 cm and 67 cm; or Hatchery marked greater than 67 cm in length; and, Minimum size 45 cm in length.”

In other words, at present the large marked chinook we can keep are largely Puget Sound returnees. I mentioned recently that the Fraser spring 5-2s and summer 5-2s are expected at a very low 25,000 Fraser River mouth number. Expect an announcement based on the Albion river sampling to May 31 shortly.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Chinook Zones: Haro and Juan de Fuca Straits

You will have heard that the Fraser River aboriginals asked DFO, as Fraser sockeye are low this year, to shut down sport access to Fraser chinook in Haro and Juan de Fuca straits in May to July, so that they can take them for food and ceremonial purposes, in river.

The sport side of this, as explained by the South Vancouver Island Angler Coalition and the Sport Fishing Institute, is: we have cut down our take 77% since 2010; we only take a few fish due to size limits and hatchery fish retention; and, this is not a conservation reason for taking away our catch, it is simply reassigning fish from one group to another, hence should not occur. 

A rough estimate of our area’s annual revenue is: local licences/all licences X total revenue, in other words: 30,000/300,000 X $500,000,000 = $50 million. When I crunched the entire BC numbers, I came up with a figure of $2.52 Billion for saltwater, sport, commercial, processing and all freshwater fishing. This implies that the rough estimate is probably conservative. In other words, lots of cash is at stake in the decision.

DFO put out a new notice, FN0419, on May 18, that sets out fishing plans for the various sectors:
“In 2016, the Department has identified concerns associated with expected poor returns of Fraser River Spring 5-2 and Summer 5-2 chinook. Management of these stocks is based on an in-season assessment of returns using the cumulative catch per unit effort (CPUE) of chinook caught at the Albion Test Fishery. A three zone management approach is used to identify management actions.”

I asked them what the zones meant and was sent the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP), Southern BC, for 2016 and 2017. All stats junkies and need-to-be-informed types can get the document at the link below – only a 400 pager, and vey thorough. If only they would spend this kind of cash on habitat restoration (on Van Isle, for example, log cabling is desperately needed on rivers like the San Juan that are choked with logging-damage gravel from the past century).

Going on, FN 4019 says: “In 2016, the Albion chinook test fishery began operating on April 24. The total catch for the period of this update (May 1 to May 13) was zero (0) chinook. Based on this input, the current predicted return to the mouth of the Fraser for the Fraser River Spring 5-2 and Summer 5-2 chinook aggregates is less than 25,000 fish.” The mesh is 8 inches.

The information on zones begins on p 139, and is in Table 1-10. There are three zones, each of which corresponds to a level of fish, and fishery decisions. At only 25,000 fish, 2016 is in the lowest category, Zone 1. Its upper limit is 45,000 fish, with the expectation of spawner numbers at 30,000 or less, or extremely low spawning populations.

The management actions are: 1. By-catch retention/limited directed First Nations fisheries; 2. Non-retention/closed recreational and commercial chinook fisheries in the Fraser River and tributaries and, 3. Management actions to reduce by-catch or incidental harvest in other recreational and commercial fisheries.

So, what does that mean to the price of beer? Well, the fish number is very low. Only four years of the 34 between 1979 to 2012 had fewer than 30,000 chinook. In other words, for Juan de Fuca (Cadboro Point to Sheringham Point, 19-1 to 19-4, and 20-5.), we are unlikely to get those four-year-old Frasers that are typically longer than 85 centimetres – as indicated below.  

From the IFMP, in DFO’s words:

“March 1 through June 17th, two chinook per day which may be wild or hatchery marked between 45 and 67 cm or hatchery marked greater than 67 cm in Subareas 19-1 to 19-4 and 20-5.

Zone 1:  June 18th through July 15th, two chinook per day which may be wild or hatchery marked between 45 and 85 cm or hatchery marked greater than 85 cm.

Zone 2 and 3:  June 18th through July 15th, two chinook per day of which only one may be greater than 67 cm.  (This measure is to protect Spring 4-2 chinook.)”

The next update will be May 31. Until then we are in Zone 1. On a positive note, the Fall 4-1s -  Harrisons - look to be 75- to 98-thousand fish, so expect something later in the summer.


          Of interest, the 4-2, 5-2 stock names we throw around are defined in the document: Spring 4-2: STh Besette Creek, LThom spring age 4; Spring 5-2: LFR springs, LFR Upper Pitt, FR Canyon – Nahatlatch, MFR Springs, UFR Spring, NTh spring age 5; Summer 5-2: LFR Summer, MFR Portage, MFR Summers, STh summer age 5, NTh summer age 5; Summer 4-1, Maria Slough STh summer age 4, Shuswap River summer age 4, Upper Adams River; and, Fraser Fall 4: LFR fall whites. These are further dis-aggregated, starting on p 135 to specific rivers, for example, Bonaparte, Nicola and so on.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

DC Reid - Sport Fishing Books

If you would like to support my sending out a weekly column (and if you are not on the list yet, send me an email and I will make it so), I would be happy if you would buy a book from me.

Fishing for Dreams, Touchwood, comprises many salt and freshwater fishing trips and tales. From my motoring into fog from Victoria to Tofino, and having the door of my boat being ejected from hitting a wave too hard, to the helicopter beat of blades in Haida Gwaii, I have gathered some of the many stories that have happened to me over the years. Price: $16.95. Postage, $5.

Maximum Salmon, Harbour Publishing, is a big fat book filled with hardcore fishing information to catch the big fish from California to Alaska. A colour plate of lures and flies. This is open ocean, on shore, on beaches, estuaries and up rivers to catch the salmon. The picture on the book is me and my first 50 pound salamon taken at Cheney Point, Milbanke. Price: $30. Postage, $10.

Vancouver Island Fishing Guide, Amato Publishers, is the go-to book for fishing the biggest island on the Pacific Ocean coast from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Covers both saltwater and freshwater. From open ocean to up rivers. I have fished all the saltwater on the big island, and more than 40 river drainages and lakes. Price: $30. Postage, $10.

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Nymphing Time Again

The spring time fly calendar has begun once again: nymphing for rainbows and cutthroat in outlet/inlet streams on Vancouver Island. Rainbows spawn in the spring, while cutthroat spawn opportunistically, and are with the rainbows for a free meal. There are Dolly Varden, too, in some systems, that spawn and spend their winter in the river then mosey back out to saltwater in spring.

The rainbows spend the majority of their time in Island lakes but crowd together for spawning in the streams that service the lake, either above or below. If you want to fish alone for a high numbers of fish, get out your Backroad Mapbook and find the lakes that have such rivers and streams.

There are hundreds of lakes on Van Isle, and virtually all have streams in and out. There are also 123 watersheds on the Island, so you have lots to choose from. The closest by is the Cowichan River that flows out of the lake of the same name. The well-subscribed Elk River, west of Campbell River, is another. The rest you need to get out there and pay your dues to find. Just look at the map, make a plan and go.

Nymphing is a delightfully light tackle sport in the best weather of the year – sunny and warm. Get out your 4-weight, or at most, 6-weight, and your floating line. Pick up several of those poly leaders or dipped, black tips that Martingale to the loop on your fly line.

To the tippet, Improve Clinch knot a size 8- to 12- nymph. Nymphs are the larval stages of many insects; the most frequently encountered include Mayflies, Caddis flies and sedges. They spend their time eating algae off stones on the bottom of rivers. When they mistakenly let go, or come free from what holds them down, they tumble downstream until a fish nabs them. 

Nymphing is all about using a fly that resembles a larval insect and letting it tumble freely downstream. Fortunately for inexperienced fly fishers, this is the best time to learn to fish because the fish are close, casts are short, and the tendency of the inexperienced to lift their rod tip in the air (rather than tip in the water, and the fly swung under tension) actually aids catching fish.

The key phrase in nymphing is: dead drift. You want the nymph to tumble freely with no tension from the rod; that would make the fly swing like the nymph is swimming, which they don’t do, and, hence, no self-respecting fish would bite, particularly in well-subscribed fisheries. An example on our eastern border, is the Elk River near Fernie. It receives anglers from around the world, and the westslope cutthroat are presented with fake offerings so many times a day they are choosy. Not to mention that if the trout gets pricked, caught and released, that fish won’t likely take a poorly presented fly very often.

The other key is standing beside the fish rather than above. That means you have to carefully move into position so the fish do not see you. You are finding them in the heads of pools, around structure, most often logs and on bends where deeper water is usually on the outside of the turn. Note that your rod tip can be as much as 15 feet in the air, so being stealthy is essential.

You want to be beside the fish because that is the easiest position to tumble a fly without tension. You cast the fly a little bit above where you stand, keep the rod tip high and follow the fly in its downstream drift, then, when under tension, lift the fly and repeat your cast. Most fish let you know of their interest by the line tightening, but some times it’s a whack. Because there are more fish to choose from in this kind of fishery, this aspect also helps the novice, by their receiving more bites and so it doesn’t matter if some are missed.

One more thing: nymphs are easy to tie, so pick up the items and tie. Remember that in busy fisheries the more like the natural nymphs the flies are, as in more artistry and etc. in the tie, is something that rewards the fisher. In less often fished and where there are greater numbers of anadromous fish, the less accurate the fly need be. Fish that re-enter freshwater are less choosy for a few weeks because they don’t know what the local food looks like, giving the coastal angler a better chance with a stimulator pattern than in solely freshwater with resident fish.

So, pick up the more complex ties at your fly shop, and learn to tie a simpler tie, if you are new to tying. Nymphs are usually tied, at least on the coast, to size 8- to 12-sized freshwater nymph hooks. Bead heads are usually put on the hook to give the fly some sink. Then wrap some embroidery black bushy thread from head to tail, and then tie in some wriggly rubber legs. Take a one-inch length of leg material, make a ‘V’ out of it and tie in the bend, right behind the bead head. Tie another ‘V’ before the bend and that’s it. You can add a third in the middle because most larvae have six legs. 

Finally, in your fishing, turn over a rock or two to find nymphs on the bottom and see how closely they match your fly. Take a photo or two for fly tying later, then carefully return the rock to its position. When you scrutinize the images later, consider which of your flies is closest, and most importantly, remember the fly that had the most bites, rather than the fly that you landed most fish on, which is an important distinction. If you had ten bites and two lands in your day, it makes sense to know the fly that got the most bites because that was 80% of the fish you fooled, and is the fly you want to remember next time.