Fishing Report for February 13, 2019

Bob Meyer

Wednesday, February 13 2019

There has to be a more logical approach by DFO in its attempts to enhance the local orca populations than the one that is being presented. So far, all they have done is cut back chinook limits to sport anglers, and closed large sport fishing areas down.

The Americans are going to produce 30,000,000 additional hatchery chinook smolts to enhance their stocks for the local orcas and sport fishers. Some DFO scientists don’t like diluting the genetics of wild fish by adding hatchery fish (even when they do come from the same rivers), so monies for these projects have been drastically reduced. However, if you look at the spectacular success of the Cowichan River’s resurgence, you have to believe in this program. There was significant habitat restoration combined with an enlarged hatchery budget that created this outcome. Why not apply this same process to the Nanaimo, Qualicums, and other east coast Vancouver Island rivers?

  If the chinook are so important, why is there a commercial herring fishery? Herring provide 90 per cent of the chinook diet. The herring roe fishery is of declining value, and 90 per cent of the fish are made into “fish meal.” Only the roe has true value, and the younger Japanese are not nearly as enamoured by this product as their elders. I really question if the net value of the fishery is worth taking away 20 per cent of the chinooks’ food supply. I have been hammering this theory for 25 years, but it is now becoming mainstream thought, even with renowned fishery scientists. Manage from the ground up, not from the top down.

Why does DFO allow a large scale commercial chum fishery when chum are the second favourite fish of the local orcas? The huge commercial fishery here lasted 2.5 weeks. The orcas were here feeding on them. Again, ask any commercial fisherman what he nets monetarily from a chum fishery - I would guess not very much. Why do sport fishermen have to bear the whole brunt of protecting the orcas? Their financial contribution to the economy has dwarfed that of the commercial fishery for years.For the first time, the effects of the enlarged seal and sea lion populations have officially come into question. Estimates vary, but there are around 50,000 seals, and 20,000 sea lions now in the Gulf. They eat about 30 pounds of fish per day. So, 70,000 X 30. So, two million pounds of fish per day. Years ago, in the Courtenay River, the seals infested the estuary so thoroughly that they were literally putting all the salmon and steelhead stocks into extinction. DFO legalized a cull to kill 60 of the problem animals, but conservation-minded folks interrupted the cull halfway through. The seals and sea lions are in direct conflict with the orcas for their food supply. So, what do you do?

It is very unfortunate that our local orcas have evolved in such a manner that they only eat certain species - almost specifically chinook, chum and sockeye. The northern orca populations are more omnivore in their tastes, and pods are actually thriving and growing, and the transient orcas must be thrilled with the enlarged populations of seals and sea lions, as this is their prey.

  I am of two minds, as our local orcas are my favourite creature. When DFO dropped our daily chinook limit from two to one last year to provide more food for the orcas and protect some dwindling chinook stocks in the Lower Fraser, I was okay with it. But, I moved here 48 years ago for the beauty of Gabriola, the community it provides, the lifestyle and the fishing. Our heritage of sport fishing here runs very deep. A very large portion of our population fishes, and is very passionate about it. And, as the Cabezon says, he wants his kids to be able to experience this wonderful heritage far into the future.

  So, DFO, get smart! Kill the commercial herring fishery, put some money into stream restoration and hatcheries and hatchery techniques, get the whale watching boats off the orcas, keep the freighters off our shorelines, and value the incredible heritage of our sport fishery. Good fishing!        

Bob Meyer is the owner/operator of Silver Blue Charters. 250-247-8807