2017 Pink Salmon River Watch Program

This excerpt below was taken from an article we helped author for the Vancouver Aquariums Ocean Watch project. Please take a look at this amazing project on the current state of Howe Sound, the project “touches on the ecological, socioeconomic, cultural, and governance aspects of the Sound’s ecosystem health and provides a window to the whole picture of what is happening in an area.”

Check it out at > OceanWatch.ca

Having had time to reflect on all of the information and articles penned for this project, we at Trout Country are ready to take action. One of the biggest issues on our local watershed is the disrespect that the fishery endures every other year during the pink salmon run. We want the community to know that we care about our watersheds and want to promote education, rules, regulations and proper fish handling techniques as well as trash cleanup at the 3 main pink salmon fishing locations. But we won’t be able to do it without help from our community, so we are calling out to all the anglers and river lovers who spend time on the Squamish river to volunteer an hour or two of their time this pink salmon season so that we can have a positive presence on the river and help to protect our fishery.

Send a quick email to info@fishwhistler.com if you can help out this season. Thank you!

In recent years, an increase in visitors to Howe Sound, as well as large returns of pink salmon in 2013 and 2015, has attracted unprecedented numbers of anglers to the northern end of Howe Sound and the Squamish River watershed. Fishing has long been a popular pastime in Howe Sound (see Salmon Derby inset). Currently, recreational or sport fishing activities include salmon and trout fishing and prawn and crab trapping.

While there are many salmon bearing tributaries in Howe Sound (see Salmon article), the Squamish River watershed is by far the largest and most important. Historically, the Squamish system provided ample angling opportunities for Chinook salmon up to 45 kg as well as retention of up to two wild steelhead per day. Prior to the late 1980s, retention of all salmon species was permitted in the Squamish River. Declines in the salmon populations of Howe Sound in the last few decades are likely due to a combination of factors including habitat loss, fish farm and hatchery production, climate change, and overfishing, although, in the last decade, hatchery production has also been instrumental in restoring some populations to the Squamish River. Anglers in the Squamish River and tributaries are now limited to catch and release only for steelhead, Chinook, wild coho, chum, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and char. The only species sports anglers are currently able to retain in the Squamish River watershed are pink salmon, and hatchery coho salmon.

Sport fishing is important both economically as well as socially to communities around Howe Sound, providing an essential link to place for communities and a connection to the natural environment. In 2012 the sport fishery contributed $325.7 million to the provincial economy and employed 8,400 people. The last economic valuation of the sport fishery in Howe Sound, in 1980, estimated a total of 151,875 angler days with a value of between $7.9 million and $15 million. Participants at a Howe Sound socio-economic knowledge workshop in 2016 also highlighted the important economic contribution of the businesses that support recreational fishing in the Howe Sound region – outfitters, guiding operations and bait and tackle shops.

Since 2009, local guide outfits have reported an increase in fishing pressure in the Howe Sound tributaries. These increases are especially evident during the pink salmon and steelhead runs. The Squamish River Watershed and Furry Creek, in particular, are becoming hotspots for young families and youth looking to forage, re-connect with nature and participate in outdoor recreation. Local stakeholders in the fishing community are seeing significant surges in pressure on the salmon fishery as well as increases in poor angling techniques. The recent large pink salmon returns have attracted many new and uneducated fishers.

In total there are up to 25 species (or groupings) of finfish open to retention by saltwater anglers the recreational fishery in Howe Sound, however many of these will never be fished in Howe Sound as they don’t occur there (e.g., albacore tuna). The main species of finfish targeted and retained in Howe Sound are five salmon species (Chinook, coho, pink, chum, steelhead) and Pacific cod. Currently fishing for lingcod and rockfish is not permitted year round in Howe Sound for conservation reasons. In addition to fin fish, there are 13 invertebrate species or groupings of invertebrate species (e.g. squid, clam, other) open to retention in Howe Sound. Bivalve fisheries (clams, mussels, oysters) are closed in Howe Sound due to sanitary contamination. The main invertebrate species harvested in the Howe Sound recreational fishery are: crab, shrimp, prawns, octopus, sea cucumber and squid.

In a search of DFO publications, stock assessments were found for less than 25 percent of the species open to retention in Howe Sound. The lack of stock assessment data is a major concern to the sport fish community as there is no knowledge of trends in populations and what effect increased participation, harvesting and industry may have on the resource. For example, the Sportfish Advisory Committee expressed concern over the opening of a 2015 seine fishery for pink salmon due to inadequate scientific justification to open a commercial fishery. Further, a commercial chum fishery in Johnstone Strait continues an annual harvest of fish which include Howe Sound chum, while numbers of spawners returning have been fluctuating three-fold in recent years (see Salmon article) and the most recent chum salmon stock status report is dated 1999. Overall, there is simply not enough data available to evaluate the health of fish and invertebrate populations in the Howe Sound region.

Individual and Organization Actions:

  • Ensure you are familiar with the current regulations before you fish.
  • Take fishing lessons to learn proper fish handling techniques.
  • Take your garbage and used fishing line with you when you leave your fishing spot.
  • Avoid unwanted and illegal rockfish by fishing away from rocky reef areas, key habitat for these fish.
  • Sport fishing organisations and guides/outfitters can collect data on participants and catch and share the data to aid in quanitifying the value of the activity to Howe Sound.
  • Fish and purchase sustainable seafood.
  • Participate in shoreline cleanup.
  • Report any poaching and poor angling techniques you witness:
    DFO Observe Record Report Line: 1-800-465-4336
    Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP): 1-877-952-7277

Government Actions and Policy:

  • Require angler education through the licensing process.
  • Make angler awareness programs available in multiple languages.
  • Undertake baseline data studies to better determine fish populations, behaviours, and returns so that conservation projects can be implemented and retention, commercial harvests and industrial projects allowed only when supported by sufficient data.
  • Allocate more resources toward monitoring and enforcement of recreational fishing regulations. Ensure saltwater “guides” are licensed.
  • Increase levels of protection for forage fish species such as herring, eulachon and anchovy as they are main food sources for Pacific salmon and some marine mammals in Howe Sound.
  • Support grassroots stewardship programs.
  • Require saltwater guides to be licensed and test their knowledge regularly.
  • Require baseline information on species populations that are targeted by sport fisheries prior to approving development projects that may impact these populations.
  • Unlink the allocation of DFO Conservation Officer enforcement funds with volume of reported infractions and increase enforcement capacity especially in heavily fished areas.

Send a quick email to info@fishwhistler.com if you can help out this season. Thank you!

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