Photo: Think twice before hooking a chinook

(Credit: NOAA Fisheries West Coast via Flicker)

By Jeffery Young, Senior science and policy analyst

If you fish recreationally, help chinook this summer by bypassing them for other salmon species.

Chinook are the biggest Pacific salmon — the B.C. record carrier weighed a whopping 57 kilograms! They're also the cornerstone of recreational, commercial and First Nations fisheries. A good chunk of the almost $1 billion of economic activity from recreational fishing comes from anglers looking to hook a big one, and industry depends on the strength of wild chinook returns. But some stocks central to southern B.C. fisheries aren't doing very well.

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Chinook from the Fraser River watershed, one of several types in southern B.C., have declined in recent years. Yearlings that spend at least a year in streams and rivers as juveniles before migrating to the Strait of Georgia and returning as adults in the spring and early summer are particularly affected.

Salmon-loving organizations and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are taking steps to decrease habitat destruction and increase chinook marine survival. For example, this year a habitat and flow restoration project was put in the Swift River, a major chinook tributary of the North Thompson River. And the total allowable catch has been reduced by about half, a tough blow for all fisheries, but a plus for Fraser chinook populations that jumped in recent years.

What if anglers took further voluntary action to cut back?

Recreational fisheries from the Fraser mouth to the Juan de Fuca Strait account for the majority of the remaining marine catch of yearling Fraser chinook. These are important fisheries drawing in tourists and local anglers alike and bolstering B.C.'s economy. Closing them would be a social and economic blow. But if anglers cut back on their catch (current limit is two per day and 30 each year), or shifted to other salmon species (sockeye are looking pretty good), more chinook could return to spawn in the Fraser. This is particularly important now, with the more abundant chinook populations arriving later in the summer.

Remember to use barbless hooks and limit the amount of time the fish is out of the water since air exposure is the biggest factor for released salmon survival.

If you're fishing near Victoria, Sooke or Sidney, consider bypassing the big chinook now to leave more for the future. Your good deed will not go unrewarded.

Graph: decreasing chinooks
The number of spawning chinook recorded by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for all populations with juveniles that spend at least one winter in freshwater (yearlings) and the earliest adults from the yearlings (commonly referred to as spring chinook) that return to rivers before July. Just over 20,000 spring-yearling spawners return in the huge upper Fraser and Thompson River areas.

Credit: Brian Riddell of the Pacific Salmon Foundation

July 3, 2014

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