On page 8, Region 1 Vancouver Island Freshwater Salmon Supplement of the 2012-13 Tidal Waters Guide you will find the following opening: Puntledge and Courtenay Rivers – downstream from a boundary marker located 75 metres downstream of the weir at the lower hatchery (excluding the Morrison Creek closure) – Chum Salmon Oct. 1 to Nov. 30 limit two per day.
This opening has been delayed as BC Hydro is requesting reduced flows for the month of October, barring more rain. This means already low flows will be reduced and water temperatures are a bit higher than normal.
Currently they have about 400 fall chinook in the hatchery with a target of 4,500, and coho are about 500 with a target of 8,500. As of this writing there are very few chums in the river.
A major concern of the hatchery is that with few chums in the river and unusually low water conditions, the chinook and coho can be seriously impacted by catch and release, adding to the serious stress of warm, low water that the spawning success would be impaired by those fish that survive fishing and river stress conditions.
The river will be monitored on a daily basis and if we get some rain it will be opened as soon as possible. The hatchery noted that the fall chinook are usually finished migrating by the end of October and they would support a November opening for chum even if river conditions were not fully restored. However, if river conditions continue to worsen the situation will be evaluated at the end of the month.
All of the above was discussed with Megs Kohlmeyer-Hurd, chairperson of the Comox Valley Area 14 Sport Fishing Advisory Committee (SFAC) and she in turn e-mailed all members for comment. The SFAC supports the conservation decisions and the matter will be reviewed at the upcoming SFAC meeting on Thursday, Oct. 18 at 9:30 a.m. in the DFO office.
On Monday, Oct. 1 I spent the morning on the river talking to anglers and also up at the hatchery talking to hatchery manager Darcy Miller and staff plus federal fisheries officers on the river.
Without exception, everybody I talked to supported the conservation closure and understood the gravity of the situation for incoming salmon stocks. Last year when I took a picture of the river on opening day it was full of anglers. As you can see from the photograph with this column, there is not one angler on the river.
It is worth noting that this untimely closure will affect anglers from throughout the province, Alberta, Saskatchewan, parts of the USA, Japan and many countries in Europe.
Anglers are taking annual vacations to fish the Puntledge chum salmon run that has become internationally famous. Local sporting goods stores will take a serious hit in tackle sales and loss of business, plus many other support services. If we are lucky we should be able to salvage some fishing before the end of the month if we get some good rains by early November at the latest. In the meantime, thank the powers that be for the reservoir on Comox Lake.
In his book Keeping Our Cool – Canada in a Warming World, Dr. Andrew Weaver (co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) wrote: “British Columbia’s coastal salmon fisheries will receive an additional kick from global warming. As temperatures warm, salmon that make it to the river mouth will have increasing mortality rates as they struggle upstream to their spawning grounds. In southern regions, there will be less water in these streams during summer. With an increased likelihood of drought, the autumn rains will have a greater chance of being delayed. As a consequence fewer fish will spawn.”
From what we have experienced over the past few weeks I would observe that we are living through the early stages of global warming and climate change – with more to come.
On the matter of closed and open seasons, I respectfully submit there should be a line above the 17th Street bridge that closes the season on all in-river fishing to harbour seals. Harbour seals that ignore this closure must be dealt with appropriately and removed from the river.
Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.