Halibut closure and fall fishing to come.

As readers will know the recreational halibut fishery for 2017 was closed down early, on September 6th. The promise of re-opening pending a review of the August catch figures was made but, as that review has now been completed with an estimation that the recreational catch this year has exceeded its allocation of 1,118,029 pounds by 54,161 pounds, obviously a re-start isn’t going to happen.

Although the early season (February to April) recreational catch this year was lower than in the previous two years, since May the recreational catch has been higher than recent year averages. Why this should be so isn’t and likely can’t be known – perhaps better weather, changing and/or improved fishing practices, higher average weight of the halibut or some combination of all three – but it doesn’t change the reality of an early closure that has deprived Canadians of access to halibut for almost a third of the year.

As stated before and elsewhere this early closure will surely re-ignite the halibut allocation issue, the sharing of the allowable catch to Canada between the recreational and commercial fishing sectors, currently set at 15/85% respectively.

As troubling as the policy is, perhaps even more so is the confirmation of a pro-commercial bias by DFO managers. Commercial quota holders are able to carry forward up to 10% of their uncaught quota into the following year yet even though DFO has estimated the recreational fishery caught 588,360 pounds less than its quota in the years 2013 – 2016 inclusive it wasn’t able to carry forward any of this conservation benefit forward into 2017 to mitigate against the higher than expected recreational catch this season.

Even more galling is the news about the so-called Experimental Recreational Halibut Fishery, or XRQ for short. This is the scheme whereby anglers can lease halibut quota from commercial quota holders at the going market price and continue to fish outside of in-season closures and exceed recreational regulations i.e. size, daily, possession and annual limits. In other words, a private fishery for those with the money and the narrow self-interest to participate. However XRQ fishery participants can carry forward unused quota into the following season. Moreover word has it that as a result of the early recreational closure DFO groundfish managers were so certain that there would be an increase in interest in the XRQ fishery that additional staff were detailed to handle the work load.

My disgust at this perversion of recreational fishery management is such that polite words fail me but if true this demonstrates just how badly at least some senior managers continue to misunderstand the principles that should govern management of a supposedly common property resource and access to it by the fishing public.

Changing topics, the recreational salmon fishery on the coast is clearly moving into the final phase of the extended summer season. In many places, especially on the outer coast, the fishery has all but ended and in my local fishery out of Campbell River the focus is switching away from chinook to coho and chum salmon, mostly in the lower straits above town.

In the absence of wild coho retention they remain largely a by-catch to other targeted salmon species. Some anglers are taking tissue samples from wild coho in order to demonstrate which stocks or stock aggregates of coho are present in what areas at different times of the year, in the hope that a better understanding of this will facilitate a loosening of the non-retention rule even slightly.

The chum salmon have started to work their way down the inner coast and have started to feature in anglers catches. With the end of the Tyee Club season on September 15 and a greater focus on fishing out of my powerboat the first few chums came my way a couple of days later. The run should now start steadily increasing in size with each passing week, with the peak usually around Thanksgiving although in years of an exceptional return, such as last year, it might arrive later.

No formal forecast for the inner south coast chum return is made by DFO but one harbinger of a larger run-size this fall has been the return of the summer chum to those systems that host early run fish. Catches of summer chum in the sockeye test fisheries in Johnstone Strait this past summer were well above average and rivers like the Orford in Bute Inlet are said to be well stocked with fish, now into their spawning activities. Good news for grizzly bears!

Commercial fisheries in the straits targeting chums by all three gear-types will commence any time now – of especial relevance to anglers are the seine openings scheduled for October 2nd and 16th. Both are on Monday’s, in part to allow for the maximum recruitment of fish into the lower straits above Campbell River by the following weekend when recreational effort at this time of year is at its maximum.

Browns Bay Marina (250-286-3135) will be holding its annual chum derby on October 14 & 15, with all proceeds going to local salmon enhancement initiatives. This event often sells out as it has become increasingly popular with anglers from outside the Campbell River area as word spreads about how much fun and productive this fishery can be. If the chum fishing is anything close to being as productive as last year 2017 will be a season to remember!

16lb. chum salmon - October in Campbell River

A picture of things to come, a dandy silver bright chum salmon from Deepwater Bay.