Peter and Lorna Tomlinson of Coquitlam each caught a chinook salmon on Monday, the first day that retention of the prized fish was allowed this season on the Inside Passage.
The retired couple scheduled two days of fishing tours in Campbell River specifically for the opening of the recreational fishery, saying a guide was necessary for the experience.
“We would never have been able to do this on our own,” Lorna said, moments after stepping off a charter fishing boat at Discovery Harbour on Tuesday, their second day of good fishing.
They had caught and released upwards of 20 chinook in two days. On Tuesday, they each took home the daily limit of one chinook (plus a single halibut), each weighing about 12 or 13 pounds.
Their trip came just as Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) implemented a new size limit on chinook catches because of a landslide near Big Bar, discovered in late June, which has blocked salmon migrating upstream on the Fraser River north of Lillooet.
Chinook retention opened on Monday just as DFO introduced a new 80-cm limit on catches, prompted by a landslide blocking at-risk Fraser River chinook from their spawning grounds. Fishing guides say it's just the latest blow to their businesses and regional economy. More to come. pic.twitter.com/RK3zXBY0ox— David Gordon Koch (@davidgordonkoch) July 17, 2019
The landslide is blocking most at-risk Fraser River chinook salmon from migrating upriver to their spawning grounds, DFO said in a July 12 media release, as it announced the new 80-cm size limit on chinook retention. Larger Fraser River chinook “are having greater success migrating past the landslide,” DFO said.
The restriction applies in areas where the recreational chinook fishery opened on July 15. The measure will be reassessed on July 31, when “the vast majority of the at-risk Fraser Chinook should have migrated past these areas into the Fraser River,” according to DFO.
This followed non-retention rules DFO announced in April following public consultations. The government said the limits were necessary to help address a long-term decline in wild Fraser River chinook salmon.
|Map from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.|
“While these measures are difficult, they are necessary,” Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in a statement. “The survival of these runs is critical to the future sustainability of these salmon and to the economic livelihood of many who depend on these stocks.”
A 2018 study of Fraser River chinook stocks by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada found that 12 of 13 assessed populations were at risk, including seven considered endangered.
But fishing guides in Campbell River say that very few at-risk Fraser River chinook are found migrating through area waters.
Brant Peniuk, owner of Peniuk’s Sportfishing in Campbell River, said that salmon found in places such as Bute and Toba inlets “are resident fish of their rivers” that shouldn’t be affected by the restrictions.
“They’ve got nothing to do with the Fraser,” he said.
He called the policy unfair, noting that a two-chinook per day retention limit has remained in place in the near shore recreational fishery on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
He said tougher restrictions introduced this year will discourage young people from going into the fishing guide business, particularly due to high costs of entry, including the purchase of a boat.
|The provincial government provided this photo showing the remote site of a rockslide on the Fraser River near Big Bar.|
Since the opening of the public chinook fishery on Monday, business has been swift. But he said recent changes have affected his bottom line, along with the regional spin-off economy.
“Business is down quite a bit, preluding up until now, and now we’re going full blast,” said Peniuk, who has spent 47 years in the industry. “It’s the hotels, it’s the gas stops, it’s every other place in town that spins off… for that closure, it was a bad call.”
Rick Hackinen, chair of the Campbell River and District Fishing Guides Association, said that it’s hard to know how much this year’s policy changes have affected local guides without canvassing them formally.
But he said that guides have reported a reduction in business, notably from a loss of serious fishing tourists from the United States who take guided tours lasting several days.
“There are a small number of people… who would fish for catch-and-release and not expect to catch a fish, and that would be fine,” he said. “But generally it’s really hurt everybody a lot.”
Hackinen, who runs Brightfish Charters, said that news about chinook non-retention has also created confusion, discouraging residents of the Pacific Northwest region from signing up for a tour.
“They would be surprised to learn that our fishing is phenomenal right now,” he said. “There’s an abundance of chinook salmon out there.”
He said that fishing in area waters has a small overall effect on at-risk chinook salmon, but the restrictions will have a big impact on guides and the larger economy.
“The more rare they are, the more unlikely we are to catch one, the more severe will be our restrictions,” he said. “We tend to think things are a little bit out of balance. A lot of hurt for a gain that is hardly measurable.”
As for the new size limit, Hackinen said fishing guides don’t know what to tell potential customers.
“What do you say to people who are coming in August?” he said. “We think that maybe it’s likely that this size restriction is going to be taken off, but we don’t know that. It’s another example of not being able to plan the future.”
Hackinen said he favours large-scale marking of hatchery chinook by clipping their adipose fins, so that anglers can identify non-wild salmon, combined with a policy allowing anglers to harvest those fish in greater numbers and without size restrictions.