No respect and defying commonsense.

In this piece I’ll be touching on several topics that have come to mind as deserving of comment, the first of which is that the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers (CCFAM) met recently in Whitehorse, Yukon. The agreed upon press release is prominently featured on the Pacific Region DFO web homepage amongst other places, noting that the meeting was co-chaired by federal Minister Dominic Leblanc and Pauline Frost, the Yukon Minister of the Environment, with representation mostly by other provincial ministers although in consideration of the current uncertain state of government here in BC our province was represented by a senior government official.

The news release briefly touched on the topics covered, notably the size ($6.6 billion) and importance of seafood exported from Canada and the need to sustain and create markets for it, the need to develop a comprehensive aquaculture policy this year respecting jurisdictional differences and the increasing problems that aquatic invasive species are creating for “certain fish stocks native to Canada”. “CCFAM members are determined to work cooperatively to combat this threat”.

All good, except there was no mention of the recreational fishery in Canada, not a single reference that I could find despite some digging around on the internet. Governments are usually big on using economic data, but no reference to the finding of the last National Recreational Fishing Survey – the results of the 2015 survey are due to be published sometime this year – which found that anglers contributed a total of $8.3 billion to various local economies in Canadian provinces and territories in 2010. Or that the BC provincial government has found that as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) the recreational fishery, both marine and freshwater, generates nearly half of the all-sector (including aquaculture) fisheries economic activity in the province.

I’m thinking that for all its attributes – strong and untold social benefits and a disproportionately high economic return compared to the size of its fish harvest – in the minds of government bureaucrats the recreational fishery continues to be the Rodney Dangerfield of fisheries in Canada, “it can’t get no respect”. Something has to change!

I’ve written before about the issues pertaining to the stream-type chinook originating from the Fraser River. This stock aggregate of 50+ individually recognized tributary river stocks have a freshwater life history similar to coho and which, unusually for chinook salmon, migrate off the continental shelf out into the open ocean for the marine phase of their lives. The majority of these fish return to the Fraser via Juan de Fuca Strait in two run-timing groups (spring and summer), commencing in March and continuing well into July. Simply put, despite minimal harvest these fish continue to be a stock of concern, with significant restrictions on all fisheries in Canada that may encounter them.

In the recreational fishery this has meant significant seasonal size restrictions in both the Juan de Fuca and lower Strait of Georgia areas, to say nothing about the complete closure of the Fraser River recreational salmon fishery until August 1. The abundance of this stock aggregate is measured by the results of the long-term gillnet test fishery at Albion, with confidence in the total return being developed by mid-June. At this point regulations may vary depending upon estimated abundance, however once again in 2017 the return is poor and marine fisheries are being managed conservatively until mid-July.

Because there are differing minimum size limits for chinook in the Juan de Fuca and Strait of Georgia recreational fisheries (45cm and 62cm) DFO issues separate fishery notices for each of these areas. However there’s been one other difference depending upon which side of Cadboro Point an angler is fishing – to the west anglers can keep adipose fin-clipped chinook greater than 85cm during the time of concern whereas on the SoG side (portions of areas 19, 18 and 29) anglers cannot. This makes no sense as currently there are no adipose fin-clipped chinook in the Fraser stream-type stock aggregate (although this will change in 2019) and so one of the recommendations from the Sport Fishing Advisory Board has been to harmonize the upper size limit opportunities in both the JdF and SoG sections of what is referred to as the southern Fraser River approach chinook conservation corridor.

Regrettably in Fisheries Notice #0544, issued June 15 2017, the regulation continued unchanged despite lower down the usual written encouragement for anglers to participate in the Sport Head Recovery Program by turning in the heads of adipose fin clipped salmon. Chris Bos, chair of the Victoria SFAB committee wrote to DFO asking for an explanation and recently received a reply.

In short, despite identifiable hatchery origin chinook greater than 85cm in length not being part of the stock of concern and the department otherwise usually interested in acquiring heads from adipose fin-clipped chinook, DFO has decided it doesn’t want to expand what it describes as mark-selective fishery regulations beyond those that currently exist only in Juan de Fuca Strait for chinook and more broadly around southern BC for coho. In support of this decision it cites wanting to learn about the outcomes of several on-going reviews about the effects of mark-selective fisheries in the Pacific northwest (not just in BC) but to me it is just one more example of DFO defying common sense, part of a trend that doesn’t augur well for the future of the recreational fishery.

Elsewhere the prohibition on chinook retention for the month of June has ended in the Kitty Coleman and Sentry Shoal areas but the six-week long finfish closure at Cape Mudge in Area 13 will commence as usual on July 15. These are part of a suite of seasonal measures to lower the harvest rate on Cowichan River chinook for which the SFAB recommended reducing the time component by 50% in consideration of the recovered status of this stock. One more example of the decision making referred to in the paragraph above.

By and large it was a productive June for chinook fishing on both sides of Vancouver Island, let’s hope that July continues in the same fashion!