LARRY PETERSON DISPLAYS a steelhead caught at Sayward.

Steelhead fishers in Comox Valley want action about depleted stocks

About 40 years ago, the Puntledge River would contain between 500 and 1,000 steelhead trout.

About 40 years ago, the Puntledge River would contain between 500 and 1,000 steelhead trout. This year, a grand total of 10 steelhead came back to the river, says Larry Peterson.

It’s high time the Province lent a helping hand, says the co-chair of the Puntledge River Restoration Committee who also chairs the Comox Valley branch of the Steelhead Society.

For many years, Peterson and other local fishing enthusiasts have been lobbying government to help revive fish stocks in local waters. However, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has said it will not respond to further questions until new information is forwarded.

“We are volunteers,” said Peterson, past chair of the Fish and Game club’s conservation committee. “He’s (deputy minister Doug Konkin) telling us to be quiet and go away.”

What’s needed, he said, is science-based programs to protect and revive steelhead trout populations on the east coast of the Island. Otherwise, Peterson fears the fish will slide into oblivion.

“These (steelhead) are iconic West Coast species,” he said.

The problem partly concerns inferior genetics of hatchery-enhanced fish, which are not as sustainable as wild fish.

“You get a good population of wild fish with good habitat, and they will maintain themselves,” Peterson said. “But if you have such low numbers that they can’t find each other and spawn successfully and rear successfully, then they can’t regenerate.”

Like Peterson, Nick Strussi is a longtime fisherman who catches and releases steelhead — if he can find them.

“We have to travel at least 100 miles to catch a steelhead because there is nothing locally,” Strussi said. “It was exceptionally poor this year.”

Strussi notes an economic side to the issue.

“We attract people from all over B.C. and all over the world to fish steelhead,” he said. “It’s a real special trout that gives you a real good fight.”

As the provincial election approaches, Strussi and Peterson plan to ask candidates what their party is prepared to do about building programs to protect and revive steelhead populations in this part of the Island.

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