Sunday, 20 November 2016

Spawning Escapement Preliminary Numbers - 2016

The numbers are in for our local rivers. Most people will know DFO’s Wilf Leudke, who presented the stats to the Port Renfrew/Cowichan SFAB meeting recently (Phone: 250-756-7722).

For chinook, the San Juan returned 898, to a system with an 11-year average of 1,711, with a high of 4,007 in 2014. The counting fence was removed Oct 3 because of high water, with the local people describing the run as plentiful thereafter. The Nitinat returned 10,000, to a system with an 11-year average of 9,476, with a high of 20,464 in 2014. And let me add that there were lots of fatties in the 35-pound range, that snapped up spinners at a rate far above the average.

The Cowichan looks to have returned more than 10,000 chinook, with lots of jacks (this usually means that the subsequent year will have higher numbers, particularly if they are 3-year-old, 15 pound jacks; however, the preliminary Salmon Outlook for 2017 reports that the jacks were 2 year fish, suggesting 2018-2019 should be the better years with lots of 3-year jacks in 2017). It is the highest return since the early ‘90s, and good news for a river that was down and out for many years. Volunteers are to be patted on the back.

In Port Renfrew, the creel survey interviewed 161 boats over the summer, June to September at the marinas. For areas 20, 21 and 121 (Juan de Fuca to Pachena Point, including Swiftsure Bank) the total was 1,534 fishing trips (note that there is some overlap with the Renfrew figures).

Port Renfrew/Swiftsure is considered West Coast Van Isle, which extends up the outside to Cape Scot and around the corner, heading for Port Hardy on the inside. In PR/S some 2,074 chinook were retained (listed as ‘landed’) with a catch rate per boat (2,074/1,534) of 1.4 chinook.

The number of trips, meaning all boats on the water, whether they caught fish or not, or were or weren’t sampled, is much higher for WCVI: 65,817, slightly below the five-year average of 67,691. For the same extensive area, the chinook catch was 67,853, well below the five-year average of 103,130 or 65.8%. Not good. The number of chinook released was roughly the same number – 67,590 – as were retained.

The big catch areas were, as one would expect, where the hatcheries are: Barkley Sound of 11,396 chinook, the Robertson Creek hatchery on the Stamp being the reason; in Nootka Sound, where the Conuma hatchery is: 6,939, or only 41.6% of the five year average. For the Nitinat, the numbers are incidental as area 21 is very small, and Swiftsure/Port Renfrew/Nitinat Bar are part of 20 and 121.
Moving to coho, the total WCVI retained was 21, 821, well below the five-year average of 52,860, or 41.3%. Some 70,260 coho were released. 

As for halibut, the total retained for WCVI was 15,003, some 60.8% of the 24,670, five-year average. 5,580 halibut were released. For those looking for some consistent halibut action, Swiftsure Bank had the highest numbers on WCVI, and presumably the entire Island, as the inside has fewer fish, and mostly those who migrate in from the outside. Before you go, do remember that this is open water and conditions change rapidly, so exercise good sense and have a full component of electronics on board. Only go out in the company of another boat. Finally, you need to know that the best area is between the closed area and the US/CDN border, meaning it is on the far or south side of the closed area. Scrutinize the boundaries on the area site above – you will need them for your GPS.

As for the preliminary Salmon Outlook numbers for WCVI, they show that the hatchery rivers should return good numbers in 2017, so Renfrew/Nitinat/Swiftsure, along with Barkley and Nootka sounds, inside waters look like the places to be in 2017. I did hear of some tough fishing this summer in Nootka’s inside waters, so check before you go. Alberni Inlet ended up better than the crash that was expected, and the derby winner was 53 pounds.

On the other hand, wild chinook are depressed and the recent figure of 6,000 for all of WCVI is pretty poor, meaning something needs to be done by DFO. In Clayoquot Sound, the 2012 number was 501 in six streams, along with 22 fish farms in those waters, a gauntlet of disease and algal bloom to get through. And in Nootka Sound, Grieg Seafood had furunculosis earlier this year.

On the east side of VI, the Cowichan is starting to approach a stock with fishery potential. As some fish cruise home down the inside, that means they will be caught in approach fisheries. Note that chinook tend to stage in Saanich Inlet in September, implying that some come around from Juan de Fuca. If you are interested in a local release fishery (Saanich Inlet is typically closed to chinook retention in September to protect these fish) the calm waters of Bamberton await. Also, give midwater Squally Reach a try because coho tend to stage there in the same time frame, very deep, as in plus 200 feet.

Inside hatchery rivers Q and Big Q, Cowichan and Puntledge are rated 2 of 4, stable but not good. Rivers with modest wild summer run chinook are Nanaimo, Puntledge and Cowichan.
WCVI coho are rated ho hum to good, with river spawning stocks stable.

The other table, item 3, in the material Leudke brought to the PR SFAB meeting is difficult to summarize. I suggest you go out to a meeting, and look at it yourself or request it from the DFO rep. The Victoria meeting is November 24 at the Esquimalt Anglers hall at 7 PM, 1101 Munro Street. Everyone is welcome.

Table three lists the DNA data on stream of origin for chinook sampled in the WCVI fishery in 2016. Early Fraser fish are represented through out the summer. Hood Canal fish are predominantly in July and in even higher numbers than Frasers. North Puget Sound fish are caught most frequently in September.

Our fisheries caught none to a few chinook from the Pacific side of Washington (excepting those from the upper Columbia), as well as Oregon and California chinook.

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