Sport fishing is a huge economic generator for Howe Sound, with interest peaking in the wake of recent record salmon runs. But the growing interest in angling is adding to the pressure on vulnerable fish stocks and underscoring the need for more effective management, monitoring, training and education of visitors to Howe Sound.
Authors: Cortney Brown, Trout Country Fishing Guides
Stephanie Linguard, Instream Fisheries Research
Contributors: Members of a discussion table at the Howe Sound Aquatic Forum, June 17, 2016 workshop
Reviewer: Dave Brown, Squamish-Lillooet Sportfish Advisory Committee Vice-Chair, and Sea-to-Sky Fisheries Roundtable Member
Banner Photo Credit: Sewell’s Marina
– Dave Korsch, local fisherman
In recent years, an increase in visitors to Howe Sound, as well as large returns of pink salmon in 2013 and 2015, has attracted unprecedented numbers of anglers to the northern end of Howe Sound and the Squamish River watershed. Fishing has long been a popular pastime in Howe Sound (see Salmon Derby inset). Currently, recreational or sport fishing activities include salmon and trout fishing and prawn and crab trapping. In the past lingcod and rockfish were also targeted in Howe Sound, but fishing for lingcod has been closed since 2002 and jigging for rockfish has been banned since 2007.
The B.C. Salmon Derby, also called the Sun Derby or the Export ‘A’ Kings Derby in different years, was billed as the world’s largest sport fishing competition. The Derby started on Labour Day weekend 1968, was initially limited to 200 square miles of Howe Sound, and ran for 13 years. Each year the event took place over a weekend in August or early September. 11,000 participants were reported in the first year alone. Newspaper reports from several years documented 10,000 fishermen including 200 from Japan and 13 other countries. The winning salmon, ranging between 31 and 38 pounds (14 to 17 kilograms) until the last years when even larger fish were caught off the eastern shores of Vancouver Island (Figure 1), garnered $25,000 (reportedly in silver) for the lucky fisherman. In the second year of the Derby, a 15 year old won the prize with a 33 pound (15 kilogram) ‘red spring’ off Hutt Island in Central Howe Sound. Over 4,200 boats were involved that year, all fishing within Howe Sound over one weekend! The boundaries of the Derby were expanded several times over the years, but the winning fish often came from Howe Sound. The Derby was finally cancelled in 1981 due to federal restrictions on salmon harvest. In February of 1981, all Fraser River salmon fishing was closed until June 21, downriggers were banned, and the Chinook bag limit was reduced to one fish per day, due to concerns about salmon stocks.
While there are many salmon bearing tributaries in Howe Sound (see Salmon article), the Squamish River watershed is by far the largest and most important. Historically, the Squamish system provided ample angling opportunities for Chinook salmon up to 45 kg as well as retention of up to two wild steelhead per day. Prior to the late 1980s, retention of all salmon species was permitted in the Squamish River. Declines in the salmon populations of Howe Sound in the last few decades are likely due to a combination of factors including habitat loss, fish farm and hatchery production, climate change, and overfishing, although, in the last decade, hatchery production has also been instrumental in restoring some populations to the Squamish River. Anglers in the Squamish River and tributaries are now limited to catch and release only for steelhead, Chinook, wild coho, chum, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and char. The only species sports anglers are currently able to retain in the Squamish River watershed are pink salmon, and hatchery coho salmon.
Why is it important?
Sport fishing is important both economically as well as socially to communities around Howe Sound, providing an essential link to place for communities and a connection to the natural environment. In 2012 the sport fishery contributed $325.7 million to the provincial economy and employed 8,400 people. The last economic valuation of the sport fishery in Howe Sound, in 1980, estimated a total of 151,875 angler days with a value of between $7.9 million and $15 million. Participants at a Howe Sound socio-economic knowledge workshop in 2016 also highlighted the important economic contribution of the businesses that support recreational fishing in the Howe Sound region – outfitters, guiding operations and bait and tackle shops.
– Sound Investment: Measuring the Return on Howe Sound’s Ecosystem Assets (Michelle Molnar, 2015, David Suzuki Foundation)
First Nations Connections
The Squamish First Nation has harvested salmon, crab, eulachon, herring and other species in the Howe Sound and tributaries for centuries. The culture of the First Nations in the Howe Sound area is closely entwined with the health and runs of salmon and steelhead and many First Nations participate in sport fishing as well as harvesting for food.
– reproduced with permission from “Where Rivers, Mountains and People Meet,” Squamish Líl’wat Cultural Centre
Today fishing continues to be a vital part of life in the Squamish Nation, although salmon stocks have been depleted and the economy of the Nation has been adversely affected.
Fishing methods were inventive. “Sturgeon was an important supplement between salmon runs for the Squamish people. To catch these large fish, Squamish fishers used long poles with detachable harpoon heads attached by cedar rope. After spearing the sturgeon, fishers pulled on the rope to land the fish.
A stinging-nettle fishing line, so called for its adornment of carved lures and hooks, was used to catch deep-sea fish such as rock cod and halibut. Squamish women used hemlock or alder to smoke salmon, which would keep for two years if stored in a dry enough place. Before eating it they would soak it in water to soften it. They also broiled salmon in the open air before a wood fire. They would weave the cleaned fish between split horizontal sticks attached to a short pole, which they would stick in the earth in front of the fire, a process called sḵw’élem, which means loosely “ripening the whole.” Today fishing continues to be a vital part of life in the Squamish Nation, although salmon stocks have been depleted and the economy of the Nation has been adversely affected.”
– reproduced with permission from “Where Rivers, Mountains and People Meet,” Squamish Líl’wat Cultural Centre.
What is the current status?
Since 2009, local guide outfits have reported an increase in fishing pressure in the Howe Sound tributaries. These increases are especially evident during the pink salmon and steelhead runs. The Squamish River Watershed and Furry Creek, in particular, are becoming hotspots for young families and youth looking to forage, re-connect with nature and participate in outdoor recreation. Local stakeholders in the fishing community are seeing significant surges in pressure on the salmon fishery as well as increases in poor angling techniques. The recent large pink salmon returns have attracted many new and uneducated fishers.
In total there are up to 25 species (or groupings) of finfish open to retention by saltwater anglers the recreational fishery in Howe Sound, however many of these will never be fished in Howe Sound as they don’t occur there (e.g., albacore tuna). The main species of finfish targeted and retained in Howe Sound are five salmon species (Chinook, coho, pink, chum, steelhead) and Pacific cod. Currently fishing for lingcod and rockfish is not permitted year round in Howe Sound for conservation reasons. In addition to fin fish, there are 13 invertebrate species or groupings of invertebrate species (e.g. squid, clam, other) open to retention in Howe Sound. Bivalve fisheries (clams, mussels, oysters) are closed in Howe Sound due to sanitary contamination. The main invertebrate species harvested in the Howe Sound recreational fishery are: crab, shrimp, prawns, octopus, sea cucumber and squid.
In a search of DFO publications, stock assessments were found for less than 25 percent of the species open to retention in Howe Sound. The lack of stock assessment data is a major concern to the sport fish community as there is no knowledge of trends in populations and what effect increased participation, harvesting and industry may have on the resource. For example, the Sportfish Advisory Committee expressed concern over the opening of a 2015 seine fishery for pink salmon due to inadequate scientific justification to open a commercial fishery. Further, a commercial chum fishery in Johnstone Strait continues an annual harvest of fish which include Howe Sound chum, while numbers of spawners returning have been fluctuating three-fold in recent years (see Salmon article) and the most recent chum salmon stock status report is dated 1999. Overall, there is simply not enough data available to evaluate the health of fish and invertebrate populations in the Howe Sound region.
What can you do?
Some Actions Contributed by CORI
Individual and Organization Actions:
- Ensure you are familiar with the current regulations before you fish.
- Take fishing lessons to learn proper fish handling techniques.
- Take your garbage and used fishing line with you when you leave your fishing spot.
- Avoid unwanted and illegal rockfish by fishing away from rocky reef areas, key habitat for these fish.
- Sport fishing organisations and guides/outfitters can collect data on participants and catch and share the data to aid in quanitifying the value of the activity to Howe Sound.
- Fish and purchase sustainable seafood.
- Participate in shoreline cleanup.
- Report any poaching and poor angling techniques you witness:
DFO Observe Record Report Line: 1-800-465-4336
Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP): 1-877-952-7277
Government Actions and Policy:
- Require angler education through the licensing process.
- Make angler awareness programs available in multiple languages.
- Undertake baseline data studies to better determine fish populations, behaviours, and returns so that conservation projects can be implemented and retention, commercial harvests and industrial projects allowed only when supported by sufficient data.
- Allocate more resources toward monitoring and enforcement of recreational fishing regulations. Ensure saltwater “guides” are licensed.
- Increase levels of protection for forage fish species such as herring, eulachon and anchovy as they are main food sources for Pacific salmon and some marine mammals in Howe Sound.
- Support grassroots stewardship programs.
- Require saltwater guides to be licensed and test their knowledge regularly.
- Require baseline information on species populations that are targeted by sport fisheries prior to approving development projects that may impact these populations.
- Unlink the allocation of DFO Conservation Officer enforcement funds with volume of reported infractions and increase enforcement capacity especially in heavily fished areas.