Sunday, 23 November 2014

1. Winter Spring Fishing - 2. Halibut Regulations

1.      Winter Spring Fishing

With the wind and storms dropping, it is time to take to the water for the most consistent fishing of the year. Winter chinook, feeders, of 5- to 15-pounds, inhabit out waters in numbers from November to the end of March and sometimes April.

In the past, much of Georgia Strait was supplied by chinook from the Cowichan River that have habits that keep them in our waters for longer than other runs. Typically circling up to Campbell River and down past Powell River and Vancouver shores and thence back across the Strait, Cowichan fish were the primary catch and spent more than a year before departing.

From a high of 25,000 escapement, the average over past years was 12- to 15-thousand. In recent years, some escapements were less than 3,000 fish, until last year, when the number of Jacks alone was 4,000 fish, indicating much higher numbers for 2014 (not yet in hand). Their habits and run size were reasons that the Cowichan was picked as an indicator stream for Pacific Salmon Commission negotiations with our American counterparts.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation, in its current, Salmon Steward Newsletter, notes that its Salish Sea project has among its goals, investigating the causes of declined numbers, and methods to change those. It offers a good, preliminary discussion of the effects of toxic algal blooms, particularly in estuaries, affecting chinook that, unlike other species, spend as much as six months before moving offshore; and Strait wide numbers of other species, particularly coho.

Read the PSF SSN: Dr. Svetlana Esenkulova is the lead scientist in this work that has already identified three such blooms in Cowichan Bay in the past year.

In the past decade, the Victoria/Sooke area has received far more American chinook from their ramped-up efforts, and so our fishery has actually improved, but, of course, it would be preferable to improve Canadian fish numbers.

Two weeks ago, I reprised the drill for fishing winter chinook: Here are a few more things to think about. Of the five species, only chinook is relentlessly associated with structure. That means they are found close to rocks, bottoms, banks, choke points and points of land, typically in back eddies. But feeders, unlike mature fish, are not going anywhere. They are simply swimming around looking to put on weight by eating.

Mature chinook are most often found close to shore structures, even more so the closer they get to their natal streams. Not surprisingly, they move forward on the flood, that moves them anyway, and are found in ebb eddies waiting to be pushed forward. In addition, their feeding reflex declines, hence why more are caught at the crack of dawn after a night without food, regardless of tide pattern.

Not so with feeders. They are actively feeding most of the day, with peak periods associated with tide changes. You need not go out at the crack of dawn; it’s a civilized fishery that needs only a tide change during your fishing time.

Feeders also move around in their area chasing food. They will be near food, and will take lures trolled at a faster speed than mature fish will hit. This is a good thing as you will be able to cover more territory and have fish location scoped before the tide change. Bait reading on your depthsounder presents a good place to fish if you have no structure close by to investigate. An example of such a fishery is the Victoria waterfront that has two patterns: a close-in bottom structure related fishery on the bottom 110 feet down.

The second, non-structure related pattern off Victoria, is: trolling the 180- to 200-foot contour at 140 feet. Near the breakwater, February and March while the Gorge herring stage before spawning, is another non-structure example. At the other end, the Powder Wharf off Sidney has a dramatic structural change that affects concentration of chinook related to that feature.

One final thing, is that chinook are in our waters ten to twelve months of the year. The other species pass through in a two month summer window, and some, like pink, only two months in a two year period. So, spend most of your time trying to understand chinook as it will reward you with more fish.

2.      Halibut Regulations

It is time to converse with your local Sport Fishing Advisory Board members to understand the models being worked on for next year (I can send the PDF table to anyone who wants it). Here is the text accompanying the tables:

Recreational Halibut Management Considerations for 2015

Providing opportunity over a full season (February 1 to December 31) at the historical limit of 2 per day and a possession limit of 3 continues to be the primary objective of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB) with respect to management of the recreational halibut fishery.

This said, and despite the government’s decision to increase to 15% the share of the total allowable catch available to the recreational and commercial sectors, the SFAB has been forced to devise ways in which to ration the recreational allocation amongst anglers by constraining both the possession limits and the size of halibut that can be retained.   

The measures put in place in 2013 and 2014 have been successful to the extent that the fishery  remained open from February 1 to December 31 in 2013 and will do the same this year.  For 2014, the Board recommended continuation of the experiment with an annual limit of six halibut and the “one and two” possession limit but with an upward adjustment of the maximum size on both the larger and smaller fish, to 133 and 90 cm respectively.  In late August, as soon as it became clear to the Halibut Committee that possession could be relaxed to “2 and 2” without any risk of early closure, this change was recommended and quickly implemented by the department. 

While one needs to be cautious about interpreting average numbers, there does seem to be a positive relationship between the decision to increase slightly the size of halibut that could be retained and the current harvest numbers.  While fewer halibut were retained in 2014, the average weight increased from 11.77 lbs to 14.24 lbs.  This brought us closer to our allocation, with 150,000 lbs. currently uncaught compared with 250,000 lbs in 2013.  The fishery remains open and there seems no reason why the 2015 fishery should not open on February 1 and continue to operate under the present rules until the beginning of the new licence year on April 1, 2014 [sic].

This provides time to review the measures now in place and try to determine whether any changes are warranted that might increase recreational opportunity and expectation while staying within the available allocation.  In carrying out this exercise, it needs to be kept in mind that we will not know the size of our share until after the International Pacific Halibut Commission has finished its annual meeting on January 30, 2015.        
As we wait for the 2015 allocation number, let’s assume for planning purposes three possibilities:  that the recreational sector’s 15% share is 100,000 pounds less than in 2014; that it is the same; and that it is 100,000 pounds greater.  We want local committees to review the current season from these perspectives and provide feedback.  We ask that any suggestions for change take into account the Board’s overall goal of maximizing the recreational fishery’s social and economic contribution while meeting the recreational Vision principle that “conservation of naturally reproducing fish and their habitat is the highest priority”.  We ask committee members to ensure that proposals are conservation based, measurable, enforceable, and able to be implemented at the beginning of the 2015 season on April 1.  
This document is being distributed to the SFAB family with the expectation that local chairs will want to give local committee members an opportunity to discuss the alternatives and possibly formulate policy motions.  Any proposals could then be reviewed during the North and South Coast regional meetings in early December.  

The Main Board has been unanimous in its determination to ensure that the halibut fishing season remains open as long as possible and I assume that this remains the case.  In discussing alternatives to the current rules it would seem prudent to consider them against this objective and the risk that the wrong choice results in a larger than expected harvest and imposition of a closure in late summer.   

The members of the SFAB halibut committee again wish to thank all participants in the SFAB process for their dedication and willingness to participate in discussion of this complex and often frustrating issue.

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