Rockfish should be released back to depths where the water pressure is strong enough to keep their swim bladders in check. (Ed Bierman/Flickr)

Fishing Haida Gwaii: New fishing regulations and a worrying trend

By Darrell Oike

Haawa for all the fish caught this week. More and more boats are moving around the islands on trailers. The docks are busy with urchin boats, prawn boats, long liners and recreational fishers. The lodges are running boats and staff out in preparation for the flood of eager fishing guests.

The forecast for North Coast chinook is not exactly promising and I worry this noticeable downward trend in numbers will continue. Fishers have been reporting a few smaller chinook around the Sandspit bar and along the north coast of Chaatl Island. People fishing out of Masset have been doing pretty well.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has made some new regulations and it is worth keeping abreast of the most recent announcements. There is a new maximum size for halibut on the B.C. coast for this year. Recreational anglers may not keep any fish over 115 cm. Anglers can keep one halibut per day that is 115 cm or less. They may each have a total of two in their possession, however at least one of them must be 80 cm or less.

This means a lot of larger halibut will need releasing, which can be a tricky endeavour. I recently had to take a treble hook out of a thrashing, angry 100 lbs. fish. It was no fun getting up close for some major oral surgery on a massive slab of muscle with razor sharp teeth. I guess I’ll be switching to single hooks as the majority of halibut I bring up are over 115 cm.

Rockfish are also being given new protections. The daily quota for rockfish is three total. There are new limits of one fish per day for Quillback, China and Tiger rockfish. Anglers may not retain any Yellow Eye or Boccaccio Rockfish.

Because the new regulations will result in frequent releases of these deep water species, it is important for anglers to know how to do it properly. Many of us have seen our released rockfish remain ultra buoyant on the surface, unable to swim back down due to inflated air bladders. These fish die slowly or become easy prey for eagles or sea lions. Now would be a good time to order a release device. There are a few different ones on the market. Most of them work by grabbing onto the fish’s mouth. The angler then lowers the fish down to near the bottom and the water pressure actives a release switch. The one I have used seems to work very well.

Also, those of us who fish for ling should be aware that the daily quota is down to two this year from three.

Salmon are perhaps the species of most concern. Effective immediately, there is a full fishing closure on the Skeena and the Nass river systems. This may change later in the season, however for now there is to be no fishing. There are rumours of halving of the chinook quota from two to one per day, and from four to two in possession. This would be a major inconvenience for the local subsistence fishers and a serious blow to the lodges, whose guests pay big dollars in part to be able to return with four nice chinook.

It is unfortunate that it has come to this, that fish stocks are imperilled to the point where it is deemed necessary to drastically restrict or prohibit fisheries. But it has. It is imperative we make whatever sacrifices are necessary to rebuild and protect these species and avoid collapsing yet another fish stock and proving yet again that we are unable to learn from past mistakes.

Fishing Haida Gwaii

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