Sunday, 18 June 2017

Salmon Update – In Season

The current retention rules for chinook in the greater Victoria/Juan de Fuca Strait area (Areas 19-1 to 19-4 and 20-4 to 20-7) are based on weak stocks from the Fraser, the spring and summer 5-2s. DFO expects returns of 45,000 or fewer chinook.

The retention rules are: from June 17 to July 14, the daily limit is two chinook, wild or hatchery, from 45cm to 85cm, and hatchery greater than 85cm, using the zone 1 management level. Expect DFO to update these rules for the period after July 14.

The Albion chinook test gillnet (8-inch mesh) fishery began operating on April 23. From May 7 to June 16, the catch was a princely 3 chinook, leading to an estimate of 27,000 to 68,000 (median value of 42,500 fish) at river mouth.

As for coho, the retention rules for most of the Strait of Georgia and Juan de Fuca Strait, because of concerns for Interior Fraser coho, the daily limit is 2 per day, hatchery marked only from June 1 to December 31. Additionally, in Area 19, from October 1 to December 31, the daily limit is 2, one of which may be unmarked. Port San Juan in Port Renfrew has different rules for inside the bay, meaning San Juan River coho.

As this is a pink salmon summer, and while there will be a slightly lower run than average, that still comprises 13.7 million fish, expect solid pink trolling. And Fraser chum fishery for the Campbell River area has a river mouth prediction of 800,000 with an upward trend likely as runs have been buoyant since 2010. Go look at my Salmon Outlook document sent around earlier this year: It has specific targetable numbers for the rest of Van Isle.

The website for updates on retention rules is:

Turning back to chinook, there is the issue of aboriginals on the Fraser perhaps not being allowed to fish, for conservation reasons, and thus we, ahead of them in the water, are zone 1 curtailed as well. 

It seems to me that we need another plan for chinook and coho rather than continual ratchetting down on retention rules based on weak stock returns. The obvious thing to do is for DFO to dramatically increase the net pens for triploided (all sterile, female) chinook. We BC fishers need to step up, ask for it and put our money where our mouths are, to pay for pens, feed and so on. Just as importantly, we would be taking over what DFO has not done.

There are several reasons for this: 

1. With climate change, chinook are the most impacted of the species because they return, the largest fish of the year, to the lowest water of the year, and thus can be wasted as they mill about getting whacked by predators. In the past, I have witnessed daily chinook spawning in just-above-tidal areas, but such low water that they could not rise above. Every day I stood there fly fishing, watching new chinook rip up yesterday’s redds, spawn and die. The next day, the same occurred.

I guesstimated that the redds were dug up 30 times before high water arrived, even though by then, a good portion of the run had already died. Such a waste.

And, if we put out netpens, the fish do not have to use any river space or time at all.

2. Chinook are in our waters 12 months of the year, as in 100% and this is the reason they are the main species for which we fish. The other four species pass through in two months of the year, or, stated another way, are here less than 20% of the time. 

The alternate is chum. They are large fish, arrive and spawn later than chinook, and thus meet with higher flow after the rains begin. The down side is that they don’t taste as good, though they are great smoking fish because of their high oil content.

On the other hand, as they spawn close to saltwater, it is usually easier and cheaper in the flatter estuarial end of rivers to construct spawning channels that can be opened and closed to accommodate spawning while protecting the spawn once it has occurred. Go look at the channel on the Big Qualicum. It makes sense. And it makes sense to have closable channels for chinook that are closed once chinook have spawned, and thus the only spawning on that stretch of a river.

Both chum and pink fry leave freshwater immediately, so aren’t dependent on higher river flow than chinook and coho, the latter really challenged as they are side stream spawners, that with climate change their fry will increasingly perish with lower rain. Remember that seasonal streams means just what the name implies: they don’t flow when there is no rain. It is common out in the bush to see pools of orange-tailed coho fry in landlocked deep spots in seasonal streams, and thus, the dryer the year, the more that will die.

Chinook fry also spend at least a year in freshwater, but as mainstem spawners, while their fry have lots of water, it is increasingly warmer, and has lower oxygen in summer months, both not good for survival. As for sockeye, they spend a year or more in a lake, as fry, and thus fare better than coho and chinook. On the other hand, they transit out warmer, lower O2 rivers, as well, and are the most temperature sensitive of the five species, followed closely by coho.

3. Orcas depend most on chinook of the five species year round, presumably because they are there 12 months of the year, not less than 20% of the time, and are the largest fish of the year. I have watched killer whales thrash a kelp bed to smithereens then pick off all the hapless fish of any species scared out, and throw basketballs sized chunks from elephant sea lions 30 feet in the air for fun, so I don’t buy that they only eat chinook.

But the Southern Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition netpen for chinook in Sooke Basin does precisely what is most needed: provide more chinook for orcas, and some left over for anglers. We need many more such projects. And I don’t buy the competition for saltwater food argument that says non-natural chinook take the food out of the mouths of natural chinook and thus put even greater pressure on wild stocks.

I don’t buy it because, when you consider the, by our standards, huge chinook returns shown in the Saanich Inlet Angling History shots people have been sending me, that it is obvious there are so few fish now, that there are far fewer, not more mouths looking to eat the same amount of feed. Let’s put out some fish, and ones that don’t cause genetic issues.

You may know that DFO minister Dominic LeBlanc got so raked over the coals by BC residents for his ‘saltwater’ habitat restoration budget – ignoring that we only care abut freshwater for salmon – and cutting such programs as the Salmonids in the Classroom (introducing salmon and conservation to 35,000 school kids each year) that he had to back off and confirm the budget for one more year, which included the technical support staff that were going to lose their jobs, too.

While the Kinder Morgan fight is yet to come, and will be great news to watch, the point is that complaining in large numbers gets results. So send an email to LeBlanc supporting BC salmon stocks and netpens:

Finally, DFO has finally indicated it will do something for orcas and is offering a webinar for you 
to take part in, and ask for more chinook, and salmon in general, June 20, 2017, 10:30 to 12:00
(provided they can get people to stop talking): Management Measures on Prey Availability Related
to Killer Whale Recovery, and tell them to put chinook and coho in the water.
“If you are interested, please respond by email at: by June 18, 2017. You 
may also register for this webinar at the following link:” While the 
deadline is today, I only got the note on Thursday, so I expect they will not be able to decline anyone 
who is a bit late asking to sign up.
Here is some of what DFO had to say: 
The science based review builds on the recovery measures identified in the Species at Risk Act 
(SARA) (2002) recovery planning and reporting processes completed to date for these whales 
and presents an opportunity for the federal government and its partners to enhance recovery efforts. 
In Pacific Region, DFO will be undertaking targeted regional meetings for Acoustic and Physical 
Disturbance, Prey Availability, and Contaminants, which were identified in the Recovery Strategy
for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in Canada as key threats 
to the Southern Resident Killer Whale (available at: 

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