Sunday, 29 May 2016

To Mark or Not To Mark

Jeff Betts: [Compared with the USA] You say we hatch more for less money, but not all chinook....and you say 'Canada marks few, while in the States high numbers are marked, meaning cut off adipose fin, but no tag. ' Does that mean we Canadians release unmarked fish from hatcheries? Given the regs specify marked and unmarked limits that seems strange....?

A: Yes, we produce more than 500 million salmon fry of the five species for about $25 Million – and virtually all are unmarked. The Washington budget for operating is about $65 Million and they produce about 150 million fry (coho, chinook and steelhead). 

There are caveats: Washington is only one of four states producing fry; the USA spends far more cumulatively, Washington State having about a billion in aging infrastructure while in BC, although with far fewer hatcheries, I don’t think there is a document yet that tots up infrastructure needs. 

I surmise the reason for no capital budget is, unfortunately, that the Salmon Enhancement Program budget is erroneously put in DFO’s Conservation and Protection Branch budget, and thus gets whittled down as a bargaining chip when divvying up the cross-Canada protection money at budgeting time. 

Up until the end of 2015 when Gail Shea put $4-million into east coast Atlantic salmon hatcheries, only BC had a hatchery system, and thus we got criticized for good treatment that no one else got; another instance of the east and Ottawa not understanding BC and how central salmon are to our culture. You may recall that my estimate is that BC has 99.8% of Canada’s salmon while six eastern provinces – half the country – total .2% of the salmon, and it is easy to see why points of view might differ, and unfortunately, budgets are decided in the east.  

Returning to west coast comparisons: Alaska puts out 1.5 billion pink salmon alone in an average year. ‘Ocean Ranching’ it is called, meaning flood the ocean with pinks and it will return large numbers the following year. The commercial catch numbers from 2015 are staggering: 263.5 million fish, comprised of 474,000 Chinook, 15.2 million chum, 3.6 million coho, 190.5 million pink and 54 million sockeye. I don’t have their hatchery cost figures, but this system is criticized for homogenizing gene pools across many watersheds, and putting too many predators in the ocean after the same amount of food.

I don’t have figures for Oregon and California. My recollection is that work on the Columbia is in the billion range, but that would have double counting of Washington costs in it. And comparing the two systems, with the figures I have, is comparing apples and cumquats.

The reason for marking chinook in BC is that they are in our waters 12 months of the year, are the mainstay of the sport fishery, are in lesser numbers than other species and we want to know where they are from. The other four species are pass through fish for a max of two months in the year, and here only as adult fish.

As for marking, there is less in Canada, and largely for chinook. The main purpose is to get return figures from the heads with tags in them turned into DFO for analysis – which fish is from where. In Puget Sound, the main purpose in marking is to provide a sport fishery, rather than return information. Both systems protect wild fish. As mentioned, we are authorized to fish for Puget Sound chinook under the Pacific Salmon Commission.

And yes, the vast majority of our hatchery fish are unmarked. Marking has a cost and a marking plant costs a million bucks, and that’s a stumbling block. I have witnessed marking coho by hand, and it is costly to mark a lot of fish – and these were not tagged, as in a coded wire inserted into a head.

Most of Juan de Fuca, and Haro Strait has marked Puget Sound chinook in the winter months – up to 80%. Cowichan chinook migrate north and then circle Georgia Strait before leaving for the ocean hence, with some migrating through Johnstone Strait, their addition to Victoria area fisheries is low.

Turning to retention limits, we have slot limits, meaning from a set shortest length fish to a set longest length fish. In Victoria, the short length is 45 cm, while north of Cadboro Point, it is 62. The Victoria long length is 67. The purpose is to protect wild fish, 3 years and, at this time in the annual calendar, four year and older chinook on spawning missions, from both BC and Washington. We have mature chinook in our waters eight months of the year from March through to October from both BC and Washington State.

This year’s current regulation for Cadboro Point to Sheringham Point (expect this to change), from March 1 to June 17 is: “Daily limit of 2 chinook: Wild or hatchery marked between 45 cm and 67 cm; or Hatchery marked greater than 67 cm in length; and, Minimum size 45 cm in length.”

In other words, at present the large marked chinook we can keep are largely Puget Sound returnees. I mentioned recently that the Fraser spring 5-2s and summer 5-2s are expected at a very low 25,000 Fraser River mouth number. Expect an announcement based on the Albion river sampling to May 31 shortly.

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