Steelhead Society of B.C. Roundtable Report June, 2016

                                                                         By Eric Carlisle

     Since the February meeting, the SSBC has been working on a variety of issues.  The following highlights some of these issues.

     Region 1 Steelhead Biologist Mike McCullough attended a recent Vancouver Island Branch meeting and gave a report on Vancouver Island steelhead.  His report was depressing but educational.  Western Forest Products has offered to attend a meeting and discuss their logging plan for tributaries of Salmon River.  Members in the Comox area looked at Tsolum River with Jack Minard and Tsolum River Enhancement Society.  Branch Chair Duncan Lewis has reported that every meeting, more and more people attend.  Lewis will represent the SSBC at the SFAB local Committee meetings.

     The SSBC was one of many groups which opposed a proposal for contaminated soil dumping in Chehalis watershed (at a gravel mine owned by Statlu Enterprises).  Fortunately, after 440 area residents opposing the project attended a meeting, this proposed contaminated soil dumping project was dropped on March 3. 

     Thompson River was one of three rivers the SSBC nominated for the Outdoor Recreation Council Endangered Rivers list.  Based on Albion Test Fishery results, the predicted 2015 Thompson steelhead run was a record low—440.  As a result, while the Thompson was open to steelhead fishing in October, it was closed to all fishing on November 1.  Thompson steelhead are threatened by water removal from the spawning tributaries, low ocean survival, and non-selective commercial and native interception fisheries targeting chum salmon.  The Thompson was one of the rivers chosen and the ORC press release included a substantial write-up on the SSBC. 

     Sue Pollard, formerly the Rivers Specialist at the Provincial Fisheries Branch but now at Fresh Water Fisheries Society of B.C., attended a recent meeting and spoke about the programs of the FFSBC.  Some of these programs involve planting trout in lakes, but other programs involve monitoring of river fisheries and preservation of wild stocks.  Last year, the Rivers Committee received $335,000 and worked on 19 projects.  This year, 17 river projects are proposed.  About 10% of the allocation across B.C. is steelhead related.  $25,000 is used to support the Steelhead Harvest Analysis questionnaire, which essentially is the only tool used to determine steelhead catches.  In 2015, the FFSBC partnered with the Conservation Office Service and spent 2,000 hours on patrol effort on Thompson River.  The FFSBC has 72 regular staff (which makes it bigger than the provincial fisheries program) and 50 seasonal staff.

     In the Skeena area, the SSBC will be participating in a steelhead catch-and-release study on Bulkley River.  This study will be run by Dr. Andy Danylchuk, Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts.  Also involved are Mark Beere, Region 6 Steelhead Biologist, the Provincial Fisheries Branch and others.  While steelhead catch-and-release has been a management tool used since the early 1980s, very little research has been done on the fate of fish caught and then released.  This study will evaluate the physical impacts, physiologic stressors and post release behaviour and mortality of wild steelhead.  It will test the impacts of different handling techniques, including the effects of up to 30 second air exposure, on steelhead caught by recreational anglers on a variety of tackle.  External radio tags will be attached to the area behind the dorsal fin of each fish in the study, and these tags will provide short term tracking by radio telemetry.  The study will occur from September to November on the Bulkley watershed.

     Also in the Skeena watershed, during the April SSBC meeting Troy Peters reported that water sampling of Exstew Slough would take place the following Monday and that permits for fish sampling and rescue had been applied for.  20,000 license posters (which include both the fishing license and fish identification pictures) had been prepared.

     Earlier this year, anglers who fish Capilano River for early running coho felt that since there was a good snowpack, the river would be fishable into July.  But with the warm spring and much of the spring freshet occurring in April and early May, anglers now feel they will be lucky to have more than a short period of fishable water in June (unless rainfalls raise the river level).  In other words, the Capilano and many other B.C. rivers will flow at their summer low levels much earlier than usual.  The situation will be better than last year’s (2015 was the year of the spring freshet that didn’t occur due a low snowpack), but low flows and, most likely, warmer than usual water, will prevail throughout the hot summer weather.  Some years the North Shore spring freshet would continue throughout July and even into August.  Just a few days ago, I saw news items saying Cowichan Lake was 46% of its usual level for mid-May and level 3 drought conditions were already prevailing on Vancouver Island south of Tofino and south of Campbell River.  Looks like another tough summer on the south coast, water-wise.  I hope the two fishery management agencies will monitor the situation closely and, if water temperatures rise too much, will swiftly close the affected rivers to fishing until water temperatures drop.