Blue Fish News – August, 2020

In the August 9, 2020 issue of the Blue Fish Canada News we delve into the state of the Fraser River Salmon stocks and related recreational fishery, provide a specially curated list of the latest fish and fishing news, and share a provocative opinion piece prepared by several fishing legends on catch-and-release fishing. Grab your cup of coffee, find somewhere quiet, and read on….

Editor Lawrence Gunther and his guide dog aboard the Blind Fishing Boat with a 30” Northern Pike

Fraser River Salmon Sustainability and Recreational Fishing

In 2019 BC’s recreational salmon anglers harvested around 450,000 salmon up and down Canada’s west coast. Contrary to what some may think, the vast majority of BC’s recreational salmon fishing is being conducted in a responsible and sustainable manner. The problem is, the science is lagging behind, and where there’s most certainly room for improvement, the research and policies have yet to be developed that would guarantee healthy salmon stocks for future generations. Making matters worse, are decisions over recreational fisheries being taken without having invested in the science to make sure the management practices being implemented are science-based. Not everywhere, but especially it’s not happening where it’s needed most – along BC’s southern coast and the salmon that use the Fraser River to access spawning habitat.

David Brown was recently awarded the highest honour Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans can bestow to a recreational angler for his dedication and work on safeguarding West Coast salmon. With recreational salmon fisheries around the Fraser River suspended for much of 2020, Brown and others are questioning the science and motivation behind the closure, and have moved to advocacy with the formation of the Public Fishery Alliance, and a public protest held in front of DFO’s Vancouver office. Link below to hear David Brown in Conversation with editor Lawrence Gunther immediately following the protest on Blue Fish Radio: https://bluefishradio.com/public-fishery-alliance-protests-dfo-pacific-salmon-closures/

Bob Cole is part of (and a founding member) of the west coast’s most successful fisheries round table. The Port Alberni and Area 23 round table involves all fishery stakeholders. Their collective decision taking model has meant sustainable salmon numbers and equitable access to stocks for all concerned. Port Alberni salmon stakeholders include local and area First Nations, two of the three commercial sectors ( Area B Seine and Area gill-netters), plus the Somass bands Economic Opportunity fishers, the West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association, processors, environmental groups, and DFO and their Robertson Creek hatchery (the largest DFO production hatchery on the West Coast). The cooperative model has developed tables and parameters that include environmental conditions, Fish fecundity, social and economic benefits as well as managing water levels with the local dams for the benefit of fish migration. It’s meant fish stock abundance and open fisheries. The round table meets 2-3 times for full day sessions in the off season, and meets weekly to take Fishery management decisions in season. Listen as Bob speaks with editor Lawrence Gunther about the successes and challenges of the round table, and how it can serve as a management model for the rest of B.C. on this episode of Blue Fish Radio: https://bluefishradio.com/port-alberni-round-table-ensures-salmon-stocks-and-equitable-access/

Greg Taylor from Fish First Consulting is the guest on two episodes of Blue Fish Radio. In part I Greg talks to editor Lawrence Gunther about the state of salmon stocks and research along Canada’s west coast, and why DFO seems to be grasping at straws when it comes to managing Fraser River salmon fisheries. Listen to Greg talk about why DFO needs to adopt salmon recovery initiatives and to respect recreational fishing interests on this episode of Blue Fish Radio: https://bluefishradio.com/fraser-river-salmon-stocks-and-greg-taylor-part-1/

In Part I with Greg Taylor from Fish First Consulting we spoke about DFO’s absence of fisheries research and their inability to manage to make sure both enough salmon reach spawning grounds, and to keep fishers on the water informed to ensure sustainable fishing is taking place. In Part II Blue Fish Radio presents Taylor’s strategy for moving forward with stakeholders to assume greater responsibility for setting fisheries related decisions and to identify gaps in research, similar to what Bob Cole and his fellow Port Alberni and FN stakeholders have accomplished on Vancouver Island. Link below to learn more about the proposed B.C. salmon fisheries management strategy to be released this fall. https://bluefishradio.com/fraser-river-fishing-access-and-greg-taylor-part-2/

The Latest Fishing, Fish Health and Water Quality News

Fishing:

Canadian Ranger Boats Pro Chris Johnston Wins Bassmaster Elite — NPAA
Ranger Boats pro angler Chris Johnston won the Bassmaster Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence River, July 26. The win marks the first time a Canadian pro angler has won an Elite title. He weighed more than 22 pounds of fish each day.

Looking for sockeye? Salmon fishing in Osoyoos Lake is now open — Info News
Okanagan sockeye salmon are back in the South Okanagan, and fishermen have been given the green light in Osoyoos Lake.

Tips on Avoiding Water Flea issues While Trolling — Fishing Wire
Check out these tips for expert anglers Ron Winter and Randy Colom who spend a lot of time trolling.

Chinook salmon fishing opened in July on much of the Columbia River — The Spokesman-Review
With the summer Chinook salmon run exceeding preseason expectations, large portions of the Columbia River will open to recreational chinook fishing in July.

Fish:

B.C. July Salmon Stock Assessment Report — Watershed Watch Salmon Society
Greg Taylor from Fish First Consulting presents his July Salmon stock update for B.C.’s west coast. It’s a report that demonstrates a wide range in fish stock status, made even more challenging to assess given that each stock is continuously on the move.

Meet the “sturddlefish” — Popular Mechanics
A hybrid of paddlefish and sturgeon was created in a Russian lab by accident while researchers were trying to figure out how to save the endangered Russian sturgeon. The scientists simply didn’t expect the two fish to–ahem–warm to each other quite so much.

Sockeye Salmon May not make it to spawning grounds in Fraser River — My Cariboo Now
A run of sockeye salmon is having trouble making it up the Fraser River, mostly due to the ongoing Big Bar landslide.

Woman Attacked by Musky in Winnipeg River — Fishing Wire
A Winnipeg woman is recovering after being attacked by a muskie while swimming with her family at a fishing resort. The attack happened on July 25 at the North Star Village, in Minaki, north of Kenora. The unusual attack resulted in the woman being dragged under water and severe puncture wounds in her leg.

Interior hatchery resurrected to incubate chinook fry caught at Big Bar Slide — BC Local News
Chinook salmon unable to migrate past the Big Bar Slide on their own are being collected to enhance dwindling stocks in tributaries of the Upper Fraser.

Atlantic Canada’s Salmon Returns Continue to be Strong — Atlantic Salmon Federation
Warm waters and the protocol for closures are drawing attention on the Margaree, but overall counts are up and the good runs of 2020 continue.

Wiped out 105 years ago by a dam, coho salmon set to return upstream of Coquitlam River — The Georgia Straight
Fisheries and Oceans Canada plans to reintroduce coho salmon upstream of the Coquitlam River this fall.

Indigenous:

Recreational chinook openings leave First Nations frustrated on the Lower Fraser — Hope Standard
Limited recreational openings for chinook on the Chehalis and Chilliwack rivers being questioned. First Nations communities have a right to priority fishing for Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) purposes protected under the constitution. Only conservation concerns take precedence. “It was a bit of a shock,” Tribal Chief Tyrone McNeil said about the recreational openings.

Tsilhqot’in Nation demands meeting with feds on declining Fraser River chinook stocks — Salmon Arm Observer
The Nation wants to partner with DFO to rebuild and recover the stocks. The Tsilhqot’in Nation said alternative management actions are required and that they believe immediate steps must be taken to implement strategic emergency enhancement of key stocks. the Tsilhqot’in Nation said while it welcomes the stronger restrictions on exploitation, they are not enough to reverse the population decline and mitigate extirpation risk facing Fraser River Chinook.<

Water Quality:

Flood infrastructure: ‘the biggest salmon habitat issue you’ve never heard of’ — The Narwhal
Along B.C.’s Fraser River, concrete obstructions block 1,500 kilometres of fish habitat and ‘meat grinder’ pump stations kill fish. Critics say it’s time for fish-friendly flood control.

Does It Make Sense to Build a New Island at the Mouth of the Fraser? — The Tyee
The Vancouver port has big expansion plans. The proposed new artificial island that the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority proposes to build at Roberts Bank, to expand its existing Deltaport container port, resides in the heart of the Fraser River estuary, about 30 kilometres south of Vancouver.

Ontario takes important first step in cormorant control — OFAH
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) announced that they will be introducing a fall harvest for double-crested cormorants. Over two decades of advocacy, OFAH has been at the forefront of requesting government control of overabundant double-crested cormorants. This fall season marks the first step in utilizing hunters to help create a manageable population of cormorants and minimize their impacts on other fish and wildlife species, as well as the habitat and ecosystems that support them.

In Scotland new disease casts further doubt on the future of Atlantic salmon — Atlantic Salmon Federation
Salmon with an unusual red skin disease have been showing up, and scientists are scrambling to understand its importance and extent. A call has now gone out to Scottish anglers to help identify cases of the condition and to pass on details of affected fish to authorities in the hope that a cause can be found.

Canada to ban ‘nuisance seals’ killing to keep access to U.S. market — CBC News
In an effort to maintain access to the lucrative U.S. seafood market, Canada will abolish permits that allow the killing of so-called “nuisance seals” by commercial fishermen and aquaculture. DFO is making this change in order to ensure continued access to the U.S. fish and seafood market, a market worth about $5 billion annually to Canada.

U.S. President Signs Great American Outdoors Act into Law — Fishing Wire
The Great American Outdoors Act is now codified as federal law. The Act is to enhance conservation and access to public lands and waters today and for generations. American Sportfishing Association (ASA) President Glenn Hughes attended the signing ceremony. Ducks Unlimited also supports the new law as half the revenue from energy development on public lands would be allocated to the fund and distributed to the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education to cover overdue maintenance costs.

Industry:

The Road from Today to Tomorrow: Northern Operators Share Their Path
This panel discussion includes Northern Ontario lodge Operators, centered around the COVID-19 crisis. Join us to learn how our panelists are managing the reopening of their businesses, how they are planning for the future, and how they have addressed workforce issues now that tourism has opened back up! Panelists include: David MacLachlan, CEO of Discover Northern Ontario, Pat Peterson, owner/operator of Bruce Bay Cottages and Lighthouse, Krista Cheeseman, owner/operator of Wilderness North, Betty McGie, owner/operator of Watson’s Algoma Vacations, and Charlie McDonald, Manager, Kesagami Wilderness Lodge. Register for the August 12th, 2020 – 11:00 am EDT discussion.

IGFA World’s 2019 record-breaking brands revealed — IGFA
Brands from a household name in the industry took the top honours in the list of world record-breaking tackle. Japanese giant Shimano, owner of the G.Loomis and PowerPro brands, topped the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) list of rods, reels and line that set more than 400 world records in 2019.

Bass Pro and Cabela’s to reward hourly-paid staff for efforts during pandemic — Angling International
Staff at two of North America’s most iconic fishing and hunting chains have been rewarded with bonus payments for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The owner of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s says that it is making payments ranging from $250 to $1,000 to hourly-paid workers in its retail, distribution centres and manufacturing plants to ‘reward its outfitters and team members for their efforts’. The company has also announced that it is raising nationwide starting wages in its distribution centres.

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris purchases 400-acre former theme park — Talk Business & Politics
While specific plans for the property – Dogpatch USA – remains in the early stages, Bass Pro says that the future development will be an extension of the group’s signature experiences that help families connect with nature. The property is near the 135-mile Buffalo National River, the first national river in the United States, and a 35-minute drive from Big Cedar Lodge, a resort Morris developed in Ridgedale, Mo. Other Morris properties in the Ozarks include 10,000-acre wildlife reserve Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, Ozark Mill and Finley Farms, and Top of the Rock Ozarks Heritage Preserve.

Boating:

Where do old fiberglass boats go to die? — The Conversation
Too many old fishing boats along ocean coastlines are being abandoned on beaches or sunk in the sea, and that’s a growing problem. The problem of end-of-life boat management and disposal has gone global, and some island nations are even worried about their already overstretched landfill.

Forecasters bump up hurricane predictions for 2020 — EarthSky
2020 was already predicted as an active hurricane season. Now it’s looking extremely active. Forecasters with Colorado State’s Tropical Meteorology Project said on Wednesday they now expect 24 named storms (5 major hurricanes) in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. The average from 1981 to 2010 is 12 named storms per year.

Guest Feature on Sustainable Fishing: “Major Challenges to Sport Fishing”

By Ron Lindner and Al Lindner with The Lindner Media Staff and Steve Quinn
(Link here to read the full length article)

No doubt about it; sportfishing today is facing a host of threats. They range in size from the tiny but invasive zooplankton creatures that threaten the underwater food web to the changes we see in the climate that encompass our whole earth. They include the simultaneous challenges of declining participation in fishing and increasing catch rates that threaten the quality of fisheries. Technology offers both its own threats as well as potential solutions.

Here we want to emphasize a threat that’s been present for a long time, but rarely has been recognized or acknowledged. It’s enmeshed with the highly popular practice of catch-and-release, which most fishery managers embrace as a boon to fish populations.

The catch-and-release ethic grew rather rapidly in the trout, muskie, and bass realms, as fishery management agencies altered many harvest regulations to require immediate release of various length groups of fish, including minimum-length limits, which had been often applied on a statewide basis with little biological basis, maximum-length limits, and slot limits, including both protected slot lengths and harvest slot lengths.

Barotrauma

These previous challenges to catch-and-release pale in comparison, however, to one that anglers and fishery managers have been aware of for many years, but generally chosen to “sweep under the rug.” That’s the growing problem of barotrauma, meaning the physiological damage to fish that are caught in excessively deep water.

Ron relates a story from 40 years ago around Morson on Lake of the Woods. Using vintage sonars, he and Al had found groups of crappies suspended in what is now known as a classic late-fall pattern, about 30 feet down over 45 feet or so. “We were catching them one after the other,” Ron says, ”and releasing these big slabs, 13 to 15 inches. We started looking around and I said to Al, ‘We got a problem.’ Fish were floating all around the boat, just struggling on the surface.” This lesson was reinforced a few years later while they were fishing in Florida for snapper. Those schools were in 60 to 70 feet and when they came up, their stomachs were protruding from their mouths, and some had bulging eyes. They struggled to swim down, but most floated off into oblivion.

Back in 1989, In-Fisherman contributor and fishery scientist Ralph Manns wrote the first in-depth article pointing out the problems of barotrauma, and calling for anglers and fishery management agencies to address concerns before the situation got worse. Unfortunately, little heed was paid to the problem in the freshwater realm, except for tournament anglers fishing the Great Lakes and other deep water habitats for walleyes and smallmouth bass who learned how to “fizz” fish caught from deep water (generally over 30 feet deep) using a hypodermic needle. Correctly inserting the needle into the gas bladder allowed air bubbles to escape from that organ, allowing the fish to swim back down.

While physiological studies showed that the gas bladder healed rather quickly, problems arose from anglers sticking needles the wrong locations, paralyzing fish or damaging their livers. As a result, some state agencies discouraged or even banned “fizzing,” while others continued to allow or even recommend it.

The problem afflicts fish species that do not have a duct structure (called the pneumatic duct) between the gas bladder and the alimentary canal, which allows expanding air to escape. Due to the laws of physics, pressure is doubled at 33 feet of depth, compared to sea level, theoretically doubling the volume required to hold it. Because the gas bladder is a rather elastic organ, it resists stretching, but gradually succumbs to drastic changes in pressure and expands, often preventing fish from swimming back down. While immediate release from moderate depths (20 to 40 feet) typically causes no problems with bass and walleyes), holding the fish at the surface for several minutes increases barotrauma problems. And storing a fish in a livewell for hours can cause severe symptoms in fish caught in 20 to 30 feet of water.

Species lacking this duct (including walleyes, bass, crappies, perch, and white bass) require substantial time to adjust pressure levels when shifting depths. Species with ducts, including catfish, sturgeon, salmon, and trout, carp, and shad, can release air immediately, thus are generally capable of greater vertical mobility. You see this in action when big lake trout, sturgeon, or catfish release air and create large bubbles as they near the surface. And they can generally swim straight back down, even from depths over 100 feet. At greater depths, physiological damage can occur, including hemorrhaging, exophthalmia (eyes popped out of their sockets), and tissue damage as bubbles form and expand in organs or the blood stream. This most often occurs in marine situations, where fish often are targeted deeper than 100 feet. Valuable species such as groupers, snappers, and rockfish lack ducts and are at great risk of post-release mortality.

Given the economic value of recreational saltwater fishing, and the heavy fishing pressure on popular species that’s caused widespread overharvest, marine fishery managers have been way ahead of their inland colleagues in studying and addressing this problem. In October 2019, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council made a landmark decision by mandating that all commercial and recreational fishermen who are targeting grouper or snapper must have a descending device readily available on boar to release fish. A variety of these devices have been on the market for several years. Some, such as SeaQualizer and RokLees Fish Descender, clip on the jaw of a fish, and carry it back into the depths, reducing gas pressure in the descending process. Back down where it was caught, the device releases the fish or can be triggered to pop open, leaving the fish in good condition, as long as no other damage had been done. Other devices function like cages with a trap door that carry fish back down and the door releases at the appropriate depth.

This decision by the Management Council followed findings by scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) that almost 30 percent of all snapper and almost 40 percent of grouper caught by recreational anglers died after release, obviously an unacceptable level of post-release mortality. They found that unwanted fish released improperly was one of the largest problems facing marine fishery managers in recent years. The following month, a bipartisan group of U.S. congressman introduced “The DESCEND Act of 2019” requiring commercial and recreational fishermen to possess a descending device rigged and ready for use or a venting tool (needle used for “fizzing”) when fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico. This proposed legislation was praised by a group of fishing and boating organizations, including the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), and the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation CSF).

In the freshwater realm, anglers have been exploiting deep fish aggregations, aided by hi-tech sonar units that depict fish, and can even define species, at great range and with amazing clarity. At recent major bass tournaments on the St. Lawrence River, on the border of New York and Canada, pros located groups of huge smallmouths deeper than 40 feet. Several pros later reported being shocked to see the many dead trophy-size smallmouths floating near the weigh-in site in New York, victims of barotrauma. In other areas with deep reservoirs such as the Southeast and West, anglers often target bass and walleyes in water deeper than 30 feet, waters where minimum-length limits often are in place. Such limits may thus mandate the release and waste of fish caught from great depths.

Ice anglers have discovered the deep-water winter haunts of walleyes and crappies, often pulling fish from more than 30 feet. As Ron and Al observed years ago in Canada, crappies are particularly vulnerable to even mild barotrauma, sometimes having difficulty swimming back down when caught and quickly released in less than 25 feet of water. Anglers with underwater cameras have reported popular fishing areas littered with the carcasses of fish that were released and did not make it, primarilly due to barotrauma.

With this article, we seek to inspire action by angler organizations, fishery management agencies, and individual anglers to address this growing problem head-on. We must document the extent of delayed mortality in enough cases to generalize across many more waterways, and put potential solutions on the table. Ignoring this problem any longer only serves to perpetuate bad habits and further damage the fisheries we love and depend on for our recreation and livelihood.

Let’s not forget that angler opportunity and healthy fish populations are not only vitally important to millions of anglers, they represent a huge economic engine. According to the latest statistics, America’s anglers are estimated to spend $49.8 billion per year in retail sales associated with fishing. With a total annual economic impact of $125 billion, fishing supports more than 800,000 jobs and generates $38 billion in wages and $16 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

It’s important to keep the momentum and continue to promote sustainable recreational fishing. In this effort we need to further address the challenges presented by barotrauma to fishery management and healthy fish stocks. Marine fishery managers have been far more responsive to this issue, and we’ve seen new legislation to promote use of descending devices. In the freshwater realm, we need to take a harder look at this problem.

About Blue Fish Canada

You can read current and back issues of Blue Fish Canada’s Newsletters by visiting: https://bluefishcanada.ca/

For more about Lawrence Gunther, North America’s only blind professional angler, conservationist, writer, blogger, podcaster, film maker and TV personality, visit: https://lawrencegunther.com/

Gunther founded the charity Blue Fish Canada in 2012 and launched the podcast Blue Fish Radio in 2013.

Please rate The Blue Fish Radio Show on Apple Podcast so others will learn of this unique Canadian resource by visiting: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-blue-fish-radio-show/id1090189487?uo=4

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Blue Fish Canada is a federally incorporated registered Canadian charity. Please consider making a small monthly donation to off-set the costs of this Newsletter and our other Blue Fish Canada programs by visiting: https://bluefishcanada.ca/donations/

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