October 2012 Roundtable Report

By Eric Carlisle

Perhaps the most exciting piece of good news in 2012 has been the greatly increased returns of summer steelhead to both Capilano and Seymour Rivers. I released my first summer steelhead of the year on the lower Capilano on May 3 and my second at Cable Pool on May 5. After that time the rapidly increasing numbers of anglers targeting coho made fishing difficult, but I landed a few more summer steelhead and certainly heard that many other anglers were successful.  For the first time ever, in early July I caught and released a summer steelhead while casting a spinner into the salt water at the river mouth. As of October 30, Capilano Hatchery had recorded 99 swimups--summer steelhead that had returned to the hatchery. 37 summer steelhead have already been trucked upriver and released into the Capilano upstream from Cleveland Dam and Capilano Lake, and more should follow. Here these fish should be safe and should spawn next winter-spring. On the Seymour, record catches of summer steelhead were made during seines of the Hatchery Pool and over 200 summer steelhead were counted during floats of the river. Like at Capilano, most of these fish are of hatchery origin and, like at Capilano, a catch-and-release regulation is in effect. Therefore, most of these summer steelhead will be able to spawn next year and Seymour Salmonid Society hopes they will be allowed to move some summer steelhead into the upper Seymour upstream from Seymour Falls Dam.

  Last year 900 of these salmon returned to Chilliwack Hatchery, and eventually I will find out how this year’s run fared. I understand that the Chilliwack-Vedder has had a good return of fall Chinook, but the Capilano return of the same stock of fish (which originated from Harrison River) has been modest and Capilano Hatchery may have to obtain more eggs from Chilliwack Hatchery. Again, from what I heard last year Fraser River anglers enjoyed productive Chinook fishing once the river opened in August, but this year Chinook catches were modest. As I am sure everyone knows, sockeye returns to the Fraser were insufficient to allow any commercial or sport openings.

Another bright note this year has been the vastly improved returns of chum salmon to many south coast rivers. Reports from the Squamish system, Capilano (which is not known for having many chum), various Vancouver Island rivers and the Fraser and its tributaries, especially the Harrison and the Chilliwack-Vedder, indicate a significant rebound of chum stocks. But increased chum returns to the Fraser also result in issues of concern to people who care about Thompson (and Chilco-Chilcotin) steelhead. As of October 23, the estimated chum return to the Fraser was 2.253 million, and there was a very low probability that the escapement goal of 800,000 would not be met. Commercial gillnetters had a 24 hour opening from October 25-26, and three seiners had an opening from October 27-29. During these openings, only chum and pink could be retained; all coho, Chinook, steelhead, sockeye and sturgeon were under a mandatory non-retention and non-possession restriction. The gillnetters were allowed a maximum net length of 600 fathoms and a soak time of only 30 minutes. In theory this should help survival of steelhead and other species, but in practice it would be better if only selective fishing methods were allowed. In addition, various native bands had economic fishing opportunities with gillnet fisheries on October 28 and 29, tooth tangle net fisheries on October 20-22, and beach seine fisheries (which can be selective) at various locations on October 22 and October 25-26. What is frustrating to steelhead people is the fact that there was an increase in the numbers of steelhead caught in the Albion Test Fishery at that same time, indicating that more steelhead were migrating up the Fraser than the few scattered fish found in late September and earlier in October. The most recent fishery notice regarding Fraser chum said, In order to ensure management objectives on Interior Fraser steelhead stocks of concern are achieved, no further Area E fisheries in Area 29 are scheduled for the balance of the 2012 season. But the damage may already have been done--releasing steelhead from gillnets always results in significant casualties.  About three weeks ago, I read a report from Rob Bison, the provincial biologist who manages steelhead in Region 3. Bison commented on the few steelhead caught in the Albion Test Fishery and said that it was unlikely that the steelhead fishery would open on the Thompson. However, in late October sufficient steelhead must have appeared in the test fishery, because on November 1 the Thompson opened to the usual catch-and-release steelhead fishery.

Another issue of concern to the Steelhead Society is the proposed bitumen pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat. I have touched on this issue in a previous roundtable report, so I will simply say that the SSBC and other organizations continue to oppose this potential environmental disaster.

An issue which recently came to light was the extremely low flows found in Cowichan River. Apparently, the river level is controlled, at least partly, by a weir at the outlet of Lake Cowichan. Earlier in the year, cottage owners along Lake Cowichan had insisted that the lake be lowered so they could have beaches, but by October the lake was so low that a terribly reduced flow was going down the Cowichan, which has a significant run of winter steelhead in addition to coho, Chinook and chum salmon and resident rainbow and brown trout. Probably many of you saw the TV news item about Cowichan Hatchery capturing adult Chinook in the lower Cowichan and trucking these fish upriver so they could spawn. One of our local members is actively involved in trying to get the low flow situation rectified.

Finally, over the last two years Brian Smith and I have been involved in development of a joint water use plan for both Capilano and Seymour Rivers.  After many meetings of the Consultative Committee and the Fisheries Technical Working Group, on July 19 a recommended water use plan was endorsed by all members of the CC. This WUP is not perfect but I feel it was the best we could do under the circumstances--at the outset, the Metro Vancouver representatives on the CC said that their first concern was protection of the reliable supply of drinking water. Still, the WUP will result in increased flows in both rivers during the summer low flow periods except in drought conditions. On the Capilano, the wetted usable width should be doubled except under drought conditions, when the status quo low flow of .57 cms will continue to be the minimum flow. A variety of non-flow options will help fish stocks continue to survive and, hopefully, increase in both rivers.