There’s a lot going on!!

The new lunar Year of the Dog is fast becoming one to remember for the Pacific regional recreational fishery, but for all the wrong reasons. The issues that are beginning to confront access and opportunity that most anglers have taken for granted are piling up almost faster than the volunteers at the Sport Fishing Advisory Board can deal with.

As hoped for the recreational halibut season began March 1st, but despite the significantly lower allowable catch this year the size regulations until the end of the month are the same as last years, this because the license (April 1 – March 31) and total allowable catch (January 1 – December 31) years are misaligned. New maximum size regulations, as yet unknown, will come into effect beginning in April for the remainder of the season. However the more fundamental issue of an equitable allocation policy between the commercial and recreational sectors will have to be addressed again. The combination of an early closure of the recreational season in 2017 and the consequences of a lowered national total allowable catch and thus 15% recreational share in 2018 have triggered an urgent need to have the inter-sectoral allocation policy revised.

While on groundfish, the management of the outside yelloweye rockfish stock is causing real grief for those fisheries that may encounter them – deliberately targeting these fish has essentially become a thing of the past. As with halibut the final regulations for rockfish opportunity for the outside waters recreational fishery in 2018 have not been announced, however the proposed measures to keep within a cap for the recreational fishery of less than 15 metric tons (the preferred metric for these fish by DFO) of total mortality – not landed catch – will likely restrict access to other more abundant fish such halibut and lingcod. It needs to be repeated that this is the consequence of gross mismanagement of the outside yelloweye rockfish stock by DFO thirty years ago.

Despite generally productive chinook fishing around southern BC in recent decades, the possibility of numerous threats to continued access in a way the recreational fishery has been accustomed to in the past are presenting themselves. The most immediate is the federal governments apparent determination to use fishing closures or severe restrictions beginning in the 2018 season as a means of providing more chinook salmon as prey for the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population, this despite the fact that the best available science indicates the net benefit to the killer whales themselves is uncertain or minimal. A case of management by optics to convince the Canadian public that government is actually doing something to ensure the future viability of these animals.

The challenge for the SFAB is to convince the federal government to implement measures that will provide some benefit to the killer whales of concern (SRKW) without destroying the recreational fishery in a wide area around the bottom end of Vancouver Island, through parts of the Gulf Islands and off the mouth of the Fraser River. Firstly, finfish closures wherein no one can fish must be avoided to sustain legitimate bottom fishing opportunities for species like lingcod and halibut. Secondly, there must be breaks between restricted and non-restricted areas in order to provide some opportunity to go chinook salmon fishing. And thirdly, other users must also face constraints otherwise any chinook foregone by the recreational fishery will be “lost” to these whales in the ongoing noise pollution that compromises their ability to hunt and which likely
is as much a cause of insufficient feeding as insufficient feed.

Looking into the not so distant future, 27 naturally reproducing chinook stocks in southern BC will be reviewed by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada), an at arms length from government body of scientists tasked with providing advice to the federal government on endangered wildlife and their habitats. An assessment in the endangered or threatened categories can mean a listing under the federal Species At Risk Act (SARA), with all kinds of management actions designed to secure the future of the animal under scrutiny to follow. You can expect to read more about this initiative before too long.

Discussions on “regular” salmon management issues continue as always. In my part of the world attempts are being made to reduce the time component in the five time and area restricted areas around the north Strait of Georgia which are intended to lower the harvest rate by the recreational fishery on Cowichan chinook. In place (this time around) for a dozen years at least, they commenced at a time when this important chinook stock was in big trouble. Thanks mainly to significant habitat work in-river this chinook stock has rebounded strongly and has significantly exceeded the spawning escapement target (6500 age 3+ fish) in both the last two years, yet DFO gives no indication that it will move on the SFAB’s request to cut the time component by 50%. This could be a real test of the departments’ ability to act as an honest manager of the recreational fishery, or whether it will in effect “move the goal posts” and continue to find reasons to maintain the regulations that are a significant and now unjustified constraint to our fishery.

Other examples of completely unjustified restrictions that defy logic include a prohibition on retaining salmon near the Fraser river mouth in January and February even though there are no stocks of concern there and prohibition on retaining adipose fin-clipped chinook in the southern Strait of Georgia recreational fishery in the spring and early summer period, even though these hatchery origin fish may contain a coded wire-tag which everywhere else DFO wants anglers to turn in.

And then there’s the annual struggle to try and secure some limited retention of wild coho around southern BC. The proposal that the SFAB put forward in 2017, and which was turned down, would have seen very modest retention opportunity (e.g. one unmarked coho per angler per day starting September 1 in the Strait of Georgia) that, according to DFO’s own data, would have increased the recreational harvest rate in marine waters by one or two tenths of one percent, a difference to the returns that can’t be measured on the spawning grounds. Apart from providing some welcome additional opportunity in the latter part of the season with almost no conservation risk, the ability to retain a small number of wild coho would provide an opportunity to easily take tissue samples for DNA analysis in order to get a better understanding of the stock composition by management area. This proposal has gone forward once again in 2018 in the hope that DFO will look more favorably on it.

So it goes, to say nothing of trying to secure meaningful recreational opportunity for Dungeness crab and prawns in many areas of the BC coast. And overlaying all of this is exactly what the ramifications for the broad fishing community in Canada will be from the current federal government’s initiative regarding what is termed reconcilliation with First Nations. Don’t take any recreational fishing opportunity for granted!