Trout and char catch-and-release proposal should be commended
Here is a letter I wrote to Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) regarding the proposed trout and char regulation:
I am writing to commend you and the fisheries staff of FLNRO on your enlightened proposal to institute a non retention fishery on trout and char for the streams in Skeena Region. Because they are not a target species of commercial fishers, cutthroat trout have been given little attention by fisheries scientists and fisheries managers. Char have been given even less with the result that little is known about their habitats and population abundance.
You will probably remember, as I do, a time when there was no bag limit on char and the prevalent notion was that slaughtering them was a noble act because of they preyed upon salmon fry. After many years without any protection, limits of a dozen fish per day were afforded Dolly Varden and bull trout. Only in recent years have the bag limits on char approached anything resembling reasonable allocations, but even these are too generous.
I have fished the Zymoetz for forty years. Every Winter and early in Spring in every one of those years I made trips to the lower section of the river two and sometimes three times every week. On those trips, I met a few anglers who fished the river regularly and regularly killed steelhead and as many char as the regulations allowed. Since the imposition of a non retention fishery for steelhead some of these fishers appear to have left the river but a few have remained and been joined by other younger fishermen also eager to take their limits of char.
Since the mid 1980s I have targeted Zymoetz char, recording where and when I hooked each one in my diaries. I am a much more effective angler than I was 30 years ago and I use much better equipment than I had then, yet I catch fewer char each year. When I started it was not unusual to catch a dozen char in each the broad tail outs of Baxter’s RIffle, The Wall, Blackie’s, and the Pasture Run. On many outings, my old and sorely missed fishing partner, Finlay Ferguson, and I confined our exertions to Channel One, the long run below the highway bridge and released over two dozen Dolly Varden and Bull Trout between us. I have fished that stretch of water six times in the last two years and hooked two Dolly Varden. There are days when I don’t hook a single char in the aforementioned tail outs, all of which leads me to conclude that the Zymoetz char population is in trouble.
I have noted declines in my char catches on Shames River, the Zymacord River, and the Kalum. Doug Webb and I were the only fly fishermen fishing the Skeena in the Winter and Spring for many years. Though we still experience outings reminiscent of yesteryear, the conclusion that there are fewer char in our favourite haunts now than there once was is inescapable.
The cutthroat trout fishing on the Shames, Zymacord, and Kalum is considerably diminished over the last twenty years, The major factors in this decline are probably habitat damage due to the ravages of logging, and the over fishing of the salmon upon which cutthroat and char depend. Still, the impact of anglers on these species, especially those using bait, can’t be discounted.
Of great concern to me are Kitimat cutthroat. All my research convinces me that the Kitimat River had perhaps the largest population of sea run cutthroat trout in the world. The fact that the river has the second largest estuary on this province’s coast and had huge runs of salmon before the onset of industry, and still has fine cutthroat fishing from time to time despite all the damage inflicted upon the watershed, supports this contention. But, the fishing on Hirsch Creek and the Wideene Rivers, as well as the fishery on the upper river is not as good as it once was. Cutthroat are fools for roe. This combined with a local fishery whose participants strive to limit out, places those magnificent cutthroat in a precarious position.
To properly manage cutthroat and char in Skeena requires sound population estimates gathered by swimming rivers and on site creel surveys. The money to undertake these vital tasks is not likely to be forthcoming. Considering the overarching principles of biodiversity, and the precautionary approach – and the fact that those fishers who think fishing must include killing can still kill four species of salmon – protecting Skeena’s long neglected trout and char is logical, consistent with contemporary managerial practice, and quite possibly, imperative to protect discrete populations of fish.
The fear of having a species disappear on one’s watch is obviously a heavy burden. Initiatives like the one you are proposing will do much to see that doesn’t happen.