Blue Fish News – October 25, 2021

In this October 25, 2021 issue of the Blue Fish Canada News we begin with a focus on calls to end recreational fishing in Southern B.C. in order to save resident Killer whales in spite of new research showing Chinook salmon abundance isn’t the issue. As always, we include a specially curated list of summaries and links to timely fishing, fish health, water quality and other news. We close with a spotlight guest resource featuring a new kind of killer whale that preys on large sea mammals.

This Week’s Feature – Calls to End Recreational Fishing in Lower B.C.

In a recent post by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation the group claims recreational anglers in B.C. are routinely violating the 400-metre protection buffers around Southern Resident killer whales. The Foundation is now calling for a complete end to recreational salmon fishing in southern B.C. Such calls to end recreational fishing by certain environmental groups come as no surprise, but what has caught the attention of anglers in this instance, is the lack of supporting scientific evidence.

I reached out to a previous guest on The Blue Fish Radio Show for his take on the call issued by the Raincoast NGO. Mr. Chris Bos is the coordinator of a south Vancouver Island Chinook salmon hatchery, President of the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition, and Director with the Public Fishery Alliance. Chris had a lot to say about why it’s more important than ever to keep anglers engaged in the fight to save southern resident killer whales, and why it’s vital to maintain sustainable recreational and First Nations fisheries. Chris also explains why we need to draw on science-based precautionary conservation measures when searching for solutions. Link below to hear my most recent conversation with Chris Bos on The Blue Fish radio Show:

The 400-meter buffer zone requirement and one-kilometer voluntary guideline governing distance around southern resident killer whales came into effect in 2019. When you dig into enforcement data for the period from 2018 to 2020, compliance levels rose to 71 percent for private vessels. The data refers to both recreational fishing and pleasure boats, but only recreational fishing vessels were targeted by Raincoast. There’s also no word on whether the observed fishing vessels may have been confused with vessels involved in Indigenous fishing for food, social or ceremonial purposes – vessels exempt from the restrictions.

Buffers aren’t the only federal restriction imposed on recreational fishing boats and other watercraft. There’s also no fishing or boating within Swiftsure Bank, Saturna Island and Pender Island interim sanctuary zones between June 1 and November 30. Additionally, fisheries closures also apply to portions of key foraging habitats during late spring and early summer fishing seasons. Add these restrictions to other Chinook salmon recreational fishing closures due to dwindling numbers of returning Chinook to the Fraser River, and there aren’t many opportunities left for recreational angling in southern B.C. But why the focus on recreational angling in the first place? Is it because they are assumed to be catching the Chinook vital to the survival of these killer whales? A new study shows that’s not the case.

UBC researchers, Mei Sato and Andrew Trites, from UBC’s Marine Mammal Unit, along with Stephane Gauthier from the Institute of Ocean Science, recently released the results of a two-year DFO funded and peer-reviewed study published in Canada’s largest science journal publication, Canadian Science Publishing. Their work assessed the availability of Chinook salmon as prey for southern and northern resident killer whale groups.

The long-held assumption is that the larger and healthier northern residents had access to more prey than the struggling and declining population of southern residents. Because the southern residents were declining in numbers, with some members appearing emaciated and because wild Chinook salmon in key areas were also declining, the narrative developed that they were starving due to a lack of abundance of their primary food supply.

Contrary to research hypotheses, the research determined that prey densities are higher in southern resident habitat than in northern resident habitat. The 4-6 times higher density of prey available to southern residents, when compared to northern residents, suggests that southern resident killer whales are not experiencing insufficient access to Chinook salmon in the summer.

So, if pray abundance isn’t the issue, then what else may be causing the decline of southern resident killer whales? Link below to hear my latest conversation with Dr. Andrew Trites where we explore his teams research methodology and findings, other probable causes behind southern resident killer whale malnourishment, and what it all means for science-based precautionary measures specific to recreational fishing:

We already have a pretty good idea that issues impacting the health of southern resident killer whales may include noise, vessel disturbance, pollution, competition from other more populous marine mammals, and lack of sufficient prey in areas frequented by these whales during the winter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Fisheries unit has also confirmed much of this to be the case.

If it’s not about access to sufficient prey, and more about the toxicity of the prey and the background noise making it difficult to locate and catch fish, then placing embargos against recreational fishing may not be the solution. We need to determine using science, just like we now have with prey availability, the causes behind the decline of southern resident killer whales. This includes conducting more research on noise sources that inhibit the predatory behavior of killer whales, and to learn more about the impacts of toxins in their food and water. We also need to gain greater understanding of what the conditions these whales face during the six months each year that they aren’t foraging in Canadian waters.

One need only revisit the impacts of toxins on belugas in the St. Lawrence River in the 1980’s for evidence of disease and mortality brought about by excessive toxicity. At that time levels of PCBs in dead belugas washing ashore along the lower St. Lawrence River resulted in their remains being declared “toxic waste”. Or, one could look to the increasingly restrictive fish consumption advisories specific to people consuming Great Lakes fish for scientific evidence on the health impacts of consuming fish that have bioaccumulated toxins. Toxins stored in body fat is one thing but trigger their release during periods of starvation and that’s more akin to the second tsunami following an earthquake.

With respect to excessive noise, I think grouping recreational fishing boats in with other marine vessels is a mistake. There’s no way recreational fishing boats emit anything close to the amount of sound while trolling compared to freighters, ferries, cruise ships, commercial fishing vessels and large pleasure boats. The motors on recreational fishing boats are by far the smallest of the bunch, and they are also located above water, which means their sound only minimally penetrates the ocean’s surface.

As someone who SCUBAs on the St. Lawrence and someone who spends on average 75 days each year fishing aboard watercraft, my own experience is that higher frequency noises don’t seem to travel as far as lower frequency noises, only minimally penetrate the water when created above the surface, and don’t seem to inhibit fish from feeding. Of course, all this has to be examined in relation to the sounds killer whales use to hunt and communicate.

The NOAA recently released research that shows female killer whales are smaller than males and are less capable of diving deeper for longer periods of time. This means they are required to focus their hunting activities in shallower near-shore areas where boat traffic is the densest. The research also determined that female killer whales would abort hunting activity when faced with excessive noise.

Before we apply further restrictions on moderate livelihood fisheries of First Nations people vital to their self determination, or further restrict commercial fisheries that can and are being undertaken sustainably in many instances, or suspend recreational fishing on Canada’s west coast valued at over $1 billion annually, let’s make sure we know what we are doing before a whole lot of people are impacted in ways that go far beyond their bank accounts.

The Latest Fishing, Fish Health and Water Quality News


Fishery Closures and the Ghosts of Past Mistakes / Hakai Magazine
Canada is closing fisheries and buying back licenses. Five First Nations will likely be exempt from the closures. For most of the past century, Canadian fishers caught an annual average of 24 million salmon. That number was cut in half in the early 1990s, and since then has slowly decreased to just two million. Today, there are 2,109 salmon licenses: 1,457 gill net, 376 troll, 276 seine. There are also a number of First Nations licenses permitting the use of mixed gear types, not including gill nets. Jim Pattison Group owns 424 licenses – the next-largest owner is the Northern Native Fishing Corporation with 254 licenses. Around 1,360 people own just one license.

Eat the Predators of Endangered Species – especially Invasives / ASF
In Nova Scotia, encouragement to eat Smallmouth Bass and Chain Pickerel is given, in order to help restore Atlantic Whitefish.

Skeena River closed to steelhead fishing / MidCurrent
In almost seven decades of record-keeping, 2021 has been the worst year on record.

Why the Fish’n Canada guys can’t stay away from Manitoba’s Red River / Outdoor Canada
The St. Andrews Lock and Dam area on the Red River at Lockport, Manitoba, is without doubt Canada’s most popular fishing destination for channel catfish. After all, more giant cats are caught here than anywhere else in Canada.

Keep Canada Fishing is pleased to announce a new feature!
Phil Morlock, Director of Government Affairs for the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association, will be sharing his take on the state of fishing in Canada in his new series “Out in the Open.” Check back regularly for new videos.


No apparent shortage of prey for southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea during summer / Marine Mammal Research Unit
Researchers found four to six times more Chinook salmon in the Salish Sea during the summertime compared with the numbers of fish available to the growing population of northern resident killer whales. “Measurements from drone footage have shown the southern resident killer whales are thinner on average than the northern residents — which supports the conclusion that the southern residents are experiencing a food shortage,” said co-author Dr. Andrew Trites, a Professor and Director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit (MMRU) at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC. “Our findings suggest that this food shortage is probably not occurring during the summertime when they have traditionally fed in the Salish Sea.”

Joint response to “no apparent shortage of prey for Southern Resident killer whales” / Orca Behavior Institute
The UBC study describes a new methodology for surveying for Chinook salmon in the oceanic environment, but includes too many unknowns and is too small of a data set to come to such a broad-sweeping conclusion. A coalition of partner organizations has responded with an in-depth statement.

Lawsuit claims hatcheries harm wild fish, orcas / Go Skagit
A primary problem with hatchery fish, according to the lawsuit, is that they lack genetic diversity that develops through natural selection in wild populations as fish forage for food, find shelter, evade predators and find mates. When hatchery fish and wild fish cross-spawn, the genetic traits of hatchery fish that are less likely to survive in the wild may be passed on to future generations.

‘They can get up to 100 lbs.’: Massive salmon caught in B.C. all part of conservation program / CTV News
B.C. hatchery program is off to a promising start, by the size of the Chinook salmon they’ve been pulling in from the Wannock River near Bella Bella (Percy Walkus Hatchery). “They can get up to 100 pounds, even potentially larger,” said Owen Bird, executive director of the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C.

Genetic analysis reveals differences in mate choice between wild and hatchery coho salmon / Tillamook Headlight Herald
A new study of the genetic profiles of wild and hatchery coho salmon demonstrates important distinctions in how the two types of fish form mating pairs.

Recipient of the New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor’s Atlantic Salmon Conservation Award / ASF
The New Brunswick Salmon Council has selected Debbie Norton for her strong support of the conservation and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon in the province.

Increased Hatchery Production Aims to Boost Chinook Salmon for Endangered Killer Whales / NOAA
Federal, state, and tribal salmon hatcheries in Washington and Oregon have increased production of juvenile Chinook salmon over the past two years. This unusual step in the world of species recovery will promote the recovery of one of their predators, the endangered Southern Resident killer whale.

Muskie decline makes news on both sides of St. Lawrence River / Cornwall Standard-Freeholder
Biologist Matthew Windle, a research scientist with the River Institute in Cornwall, says so few young muskies are surviving in the St. Lawrence River that researchers get excited when they find one during annual fish surveys. Decade-long decline of the muskie fishery shows signs of continuing, according to both Canadian and American researchers.

DNA seen as key to restoring genetic purity of westslope cutthroat trout / CBC News
At the time, freshwater species like westslope cutthroat trout, bull trout, lake trout and Rocky Mountain whitefish had the rivers pretty much to themselves. So those crafty park officials started their own hatchery and added Yellowstone cutthroat trout and rainbow trout to the mix. And they got along beautifully, if you know what we mean. But that’s the problem.

Mission Creek salmon run good, Hardy Falls exceptional / Castanet
Salmon watchers are pleasantly surprised with the strength of this year’s Kokanee spawning season in the Central Okanagan.

An abandoned U.S. dam is blocking fish from B.C.’s Similkameen River—and key spawning ground / Macleans
An abandoned dam in Washington state may be the only thing barring chinook and steelhead trout from the upper reaches of B.C.’s Similkameen River. If you tear it down, will they come?

Fundy Park Salmon Population Winning Upstream Battle says UNB / ASF
UNB says it appears there is improvement in salmon numbers in Fundy Park rivers, thanks to a project involving UNB, Parks Canada, Cooke Aquaculture, Fort Folly First Nation and the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association.

Raising Baby Sharks from the Dead / Hakai
Biologists are rescuing baby sharks and skates from recently caught females, giving the unborn a chance at survival.

The Inconsistent Ethics of Whale Research / Hakai
Countries that formally oppose whaling also routinely fund scientific research that relies on the products of whaling.

Invasive Species Threaten Use of Rotenone / ASF
Ted Williams looks at how resistance to rotenone can mean the disappearance of native species. Western trout is the focus, but it shows how lack of public understanding can be deadly for native species threatened by invasives.

Lakers spawning in Lake Erie after 60 years / Ontario OUT of Doors
Commercial fishing for lake trout in the lake began in the 1700s, and by the late 1800s, the population had significantly declined. By the 1930s, commercial fishing had all but ceased, and by 1965, lake trout were considered extirpated from Lake Erie. The discovery of wild lake trout fry in mid-May by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was confirmed in a press release.

Research shows fish can be hooked on drugs / Ontario OUT of Doors
CULS Researcher Pavel Horký was already aware that many of the prescription drugs we consume and excrete end up washing into our water systems since current effluent treatment isn’t equipped to deal with them. For example, drugs such as Prozac have been shown to embolden fish and alter their behaviour. This led Horký’s research team to investigate if pharmaceutical pollution is limited to prescribed medication, since illegal drugs can also accumulate in our waterways. According to research, brown trout can become addicted to low levels of methamphetamine occurring in their surroundings.

Lake trout genome mapped / Ontario OUT of Doors
Lake trout are widely distributed across North America, Great Lakes Fisheries Council Communications Director Marc Gaden explained. However, the fish that exist in Great Slave Lake, for instance, are different than Great Lakes fish. An advance in genetics will help scientists to better understand — and rehabilitate —Great Lakes lake trout.


Some whale watchers ‘routinely’ too close to resident orcas – report / The Province
The groups say some whale-watching companies and recreational fishers in the Salish Sea are “routinely” violating a buffer zone of 400 metres.

In the Mediterranean, Megayachts Do Megadamage / Hakai Magazine
From anchors to engines, large private yachts can leave problems in their wakes. Today, nearly 10 percent of the recreational boats in the Mediterranean are megayachts. They are the fastest-growing segment of the boating industry and their prevalence has boomed with the global pandemic.

NL Wants Input on Future Renewable Energy Plan / ASF
The provincial government has given a very narrow window for providing input on a major development plan that impacts the environment and people of NL, including Atlantic salmon and their rivers. Check it out.

On Quantifying the Value of the Great Lakes / IJC Great Lakes Science Priority Committee
The Great Lakes support a US$6 trillion regional economy. But their value goes well beyond, including benefits such as aesthetics, wildlife habitat, biodiversity conservation, recreational fishing, swimming, boating and aquatic life support. The lakes also provide drinking water to nearly 40 million people in Canada and the United States. Yet because most so-called “ecosystem services” are not transacted through markets, they are given a zero value by conventional measures. This raises the risk that the true value of ecosystem services are ignored, or at least under-considered, in public decision making.

Treatment plant opposition files for probe / Ontario OUT of Doors
A group opposed to the construction of the Erin Wastewater Treatment Plant that will, according to the group, cause environmental damage to the river’s ecosystem — filed an Environmental Bill of Rights application for investigation of the town of Erin.

In B.C.’s Skeena watershed, citizen scientists help ‘protect what they love’ / Narwhal
From a 12-year-old collecting water quality data in his backyard to conservation organizations advocating for better access to information, people in the Skeena watershed are working to fill gaps in our collective knowledge of one of B.C.’s largest salmon watersheds.

Wild Salmon on World Stage at U.N. Climate Conference / ASF
As delegates begin gathering in Glasgow, U.K. for COP26, a vital international conference, they will encounter 300 handblown glass salmon. They have the message that saving salmon rivers contributes to the fight against climate change. Read more.

Canadian Coalition for Healthy Waters is looking for members! / Canadian Freshwater
The newly formed Canadian Coalition for Healthy Waters (CCHW) is a non-partisan coalition of organizations advocating for strong and appropriate federal government leadership and policy to support the health of fresh water across Canada. The CCHW is currently advocating for three actions from the federal government:

  1. Build a robust Canada Water Agency
  2. Renew the over 50-year-old Canada Water Act
  3. Create a Canada Water Fund to invest $225 million a year in the health of waters in Canada

Bridging Knowledge Gaps through Mapping the Great Lakes / International Joint Commission
The Great Lakes are expansive, interconnected watersheds in Canada and the United States. But less than 15 percent of the lake floor has been mapped using high-resolution bathymetry technologies, indicating a large gap of knowledge in our understanding of these valuable watersheds.

Uncertainty about Teck’s future in coal causing concern in B.C.’s polluted Elk Valley / Narwhal
Teck Resources Ltd., Canada’s largest coal producer, may be considering selling off assets, a move that a non-profit environmental law firm believes could leave local communities in B.C.’s Interior at risk of holding the bag for massive environmental liabilities. Enormous waste rock piles at a string of coal mines in B.C.’s Elk Valley have been a decades-long source of water pollution, caused by leached selenium, which is toxic to fish and other aquatic life even at low levels, as well as other contaminants such as calcite, which can solidify streambeds, degrading fish habitat.

Ontario invests over $2.5 million to protect the Great Lakes / The Shoreline Beacon
The Ontario government is investing more than $2.5 million in 19 new projects to protect the health of the Great Lakes as part of its commitment in the recently signed Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health. These projects will help improve the water quality of the world’s largest freshwater lake system by helping farmers and landowners adopt green infrastructure projects and best practices that improve the efficiency and sustainability of their operations while reducing the amount of contaminants and excess nutrients, like excess phosphorous, entering the Great Lakes.

Milltown Dam on International St. Croix River Should be Removed / ASF
An opinion that NB Power’s dam, lowermost on the river’s mainstem, should be removed for the health of both the river, and the future of NB Power.

Connecting Waters of the Great Lakes Need More Monitoring and Assessment / IJC
The Great Lakes hold approximately 20 percent of Earth’s fresh surface water. The rivers, straits and fluvial lakes that connect the Great Lakes to each other Make this possible. There are seven connecting waters in the Great Lakes: the St. Marys River (connecting Superior and Huron); the Straits of Mackinac (joining Michigan and Huron); the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River (linking Huron to Erie); the Niagara River (flowing from Erie to Ontario) and the St. Lawrence River (transporting Ontario’s waters to the Atlantic Ocean). Unfortunately, these connecting waters have received far less attention than the waters they unite.

Habitat protection needs teeth to save salmon in ‘Heart of the Fraser’: B.C. coalition / Agassiz Harrison Observer
Groups are calling for a wildlife management area (WMA) to be established from Mission to Hope. “Establishing a WMA will provide legal protection for the ‘Heart of the Fraser,’ and help prevent activities like diking and gravel mining that threaten

Genetic mussel solution examined / Ontario OUT of Doors
Two separate initiatives are examining methods of genetic control, which would target a specific invasive mussel species. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin — River Falls are looking at using RNA interference to turn off a gene in zebra mussels. They are targeting the genes that lead to shell formation or development of the threads that allow mussels to attach to surfaces. Meanwhile, The American Bureau of Reclamation, a US federal entity that oversees water management, is looking at DNA technology to control quagga mussels.


How the Kwikwetlem First Nation are returning salmon to the river that sustained their people for thousands of years / Ubyssey
Over 100 years ago a project that created the Coquitlam Dam wiped out the entire population of salmon that swam in the Coquitlam River. Earlier this year, a study led by UBC researchers and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation reported that up to 85 per cent of historical habitat for salmon in the lower Fraser River — which the Coquitlam River feeds into — had been lost due to dikes, flood plains and city building.


BoatUS Foundation and Berkley Celebrate Breakthrough Concepts in Fishing Line and Soft Bait Recycling / NPAA
“Today’s fishing line and soft bait recycling remains labor-intensive and costly,” said BoatUS Foundation Director of Outreach Alanna Keating. “Working with Berkley, our Recast and Recycle Contest sought out new and innovative ideas to improve the recycling process, increase the amount of recycled material, or offer a technology breakthrough in the way line is recycled and reused. We believe these winning entries, which range from a concept to prototype, have the ability to give nearly every angler the opportunity to easily recycle.”


“9 Easy Steps to Launching Your Boat / Discover Boating
Discover Boating has created a video that focuses on best practices for launching a boat, which can be an exciting, yet intimidating process.

Correct Craft to Go Solar / FishingWire
Each year Correct Craft will commit to powering its North Production Facility with more solar energy until it reaches 100% in 2030.

Webinars / Podcasts:

Webinar: Effects of Toxic Substances on Great Lakes Fish Health, and What it Means for the Health and Wellbeing of People and their Communities / CELA and Blue Fish Canada
The Toxics-Free Great Lakes Binational Network, Blue Fish Canada, and the Fish Health Network hosted a binational webinar on the impacts of toxic substances on the health of fish. Learn about past and emerging toxic substances in the Great Lakes basin, how fish health is being impacted, and what this means for human health, indigenous cultures, and the social and economic sustainability of shoreline communities.

Webinar: Great Lakes Connecting Waters / IJC
Watch the Great Lakes Connecting Waters Informational Webinar by the IJC Science Advisory Board.

Podcast: “Fish Talk” / Paul Greenburg / Sofina Center
Listen to the first three episodes of Paul Greenberg’s limited new podcast “Fish Talk” “Can we still eat seafood with a clear conscience?” This is the question that drove Safina Center Fellow and New York Times Bestselling author Paul Greenberg, and co-founder of Sitka Salmon Shares, Nic Mink, to start their latest venture: an exciting new limited-series podcast on seafood.

Special Feature: – UBC researchers discover new kind of killer whale that preys on large sea mammals

CBC News

A group of University of British Columbia researchers, set on uncovering the mysteries of the deep, have discovered a little-known type of transient orca that preys on grey whale calves and other large sea mammals. After analyzing more than 100,000 photographs taken off the Canadian and U.S. west coasts, scientists encountered a group of “outer coast transient whales,” who rarely travel to the coast. “These whales prefer deep water. So they were found offshore near canyon systems, which are very productive areas where there is a lot of nutrient upwelling, and it attracts other marine life,” said Josh McInnes, a marine mammal researcher at UBC who led the study.

Of the 155 encounters from 2006 to 2019, most of the whales were found in the offshore waters between Oregon and central California, but 26 were spotted off Vancouver Island. McInnes said the outer coast whales are thought to be a subset of mammal-eating transients, also known as Bigg’s killer whales.

Before the study, coastal and outer-coast transients were assumed to belong to a single population. The difference between the two goes beyond just habitat, McInnes said. “We see a seasonal trend where they show up in the spring and they follow the grey whale calves that are migrating up from Baja [California].” McInnes said they will target the whales as prey along with elephant seals and oceanic dolphins, whereas Bigg’s transients prefer smaller mammals like harbour seals and porpoises.

The study revealed that when encountered outside California waters, the outer coast whales have been observed associating with other known coastal transient groups but exhibit a unique vocal dialect, distinct from other transient dialects in the coastal waters along the Pacific Northwest. McInnes said the study, which was a collaboration between UBC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The researchers also made another astonishing discovery. He said that far past the continental shelf in the open waters of the Pacific, they found an unknown group of killer whales who were eating sharks. “We have no idea who they are,” McInnes said. “They looked like transients. There were some similarities to them as well. Some of them had what we call cookie-cutter bite marks, which are these circular scars on the body of the animal.” He said these were caused by parasitic sharks that live far offshore, giving researchers an idea of where the killer whales might be spending their time.

This is only the first chapter of the work McInnes’s team is trying to conduct. “For me, this is big, because there’s been a lot of information missing for some of these animals.” The next step, McInnes said, will be to continue the research into new avenues of comparison between different communities of whales in B.C. and examine their diets and behaviours.

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