Salmon enhancement pays big dividends

COLLECTING PUNTLEDGE RIVER hatchery dividend is a happy adventure for river anglers. PHOTO BY RALPH SHAW

 

By Ralph Shaw – Comox Valley Record
Published: November 24, 2011 4:00 PM
Updated: November 24, 2011 4:58 PM

 

Modern society is addicted to high returns on investments, and success is measured on a percentage-based return over costs of investment. As with all investments there are several portfolios, some will do well and others not so well. This column is directed at the enrichment we receive in recreational fishing, primarily on enhanced stocks.

Recreational fishing is about fishing – some catching.

Each year we send forth millions of little salmon from the Puntledge River Hatchery and the spawning channels of the river throughout its many side channels and feeder streams. Most of the recreational harvesting of chinook, coho and pink salmon takes place in the open ocean, much of it in Area 14 waters; I suggest most of our recreationally caught chum salmon takes place in our home river, the Puntledge.

We have creel surveys, but I am unaware of a specific count of our fish except through the return of marked heads. If you enjoyed good salmon fishing in Area 14 waters this season you can probably thank the Puntledge hatchery for a good share of it along with the many small enhancement groups who work so hard to keep our salmon stocks healthy.

Last week Darcy Miller, manager of the Puntledge hatchery, sent me the following returns of salmon to the river and hatchery as of Nov. 16, 2011:

Coho Salmon 2,459 in river and at the hatchery. As a reminder, due to hot weather there was a major die-off of coho smolts for the river in 2008. It was with much anxiety that the people at the Puntledge hatchery worried about how many coho they would get back into the system in 2011.

The 2,459 in- river return gives 800 for brood stock needs and the rest are dispersed throughout the watershed. Yes, we had no direct harvest except the pleasure of catch-and-release, but the stocks are still good and the future dividends look bright.

Summer Chinook 1,130 in-river return. These are the fish that give us most heartburn when it comes to enhancing salmon in the Puntledge. For a number of years they have been brought back from the brink of extinction and are still a concern.

Their eggs are nurtured at the Rosewall hatchery and some are now returned to the upper reaches of the Puntledge system. It is a stock of zero return until we can bring their numbers up to those enjoyed by the fall chinook. Some are caught in Area 14 fisheries. Much of the caution of harbour and in-river fishing is directed at protecting this species.

Fall Chinook 4,030 in-river return. These fish are a success story from the hatchery that re-created the run. This year you could not retain these fish in-river, partially to protect coho and a concern for returns. However during the chum fishery there were many catch-and-release encounters on these magnificent fish. The future appears bright for this stock.

Pink Salmon 20,386 in-river return. They just come home in increasing numbers, mostly on their own, however this year they took eggs to enhance the run with hatchery help. The reason we do not get to fish them in the river is to protect the summer chinook. Regardless, they are paying big dividends and in the future we will be able to fish them as they do in the Campbell River system. They pay big dividends in local marine waters.

Chum Salmon 92,709 in-river return. If you are clipping coupons on investment returns, the Puntledge River chum stocks are paying big dividends in the recreational fishery. With the Oct. 1 opening on the river they have provided thousands of hours of exciting river fishing to a broad section of river anglers.

They also provide direct dividends to the local fishing tackle industry that supports this fishery with all the tackle, boots, life jackets and other accessories that create wealth. During the peak of the fishery you can talk to people from all over the world. This is just another example of return on investment.

Quite aside from the immediate returns to anglers, the carcasses of spawned-out chum salmon are now being dispersed into the nutrient-poor waters of the headwater streams by volunteers, thereby producing a hidden dividend for young salmon.

Dividend clipping in recreational fishing is a soul-renewing source of wealth.

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.

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