Sport fishing and the future

Fish management is an ever-changing science. With climate change at hand, it will present many unanswered questions about the future of fishing. Even before climate change though, environmental conditions never remained static. Enter the world of an ever-expanding human population, the lack of watershed protection versus domestic and industrial growth, commercial fishing and increased pollution, and environmental research, with its lack of sufficient scientific professionals, concludes that fisheries are in trouble.

There is a growing battle between the sports fishermen and the commercial fishermen. (That includes netting for personal use.) The warming of our oceans will lead to decreases in certain fish populations. Growing human numbers are leading to an increased demand for fish at the store level. Decreasing fish numbers mean there is a question around whether there will be sufficient fish populations to maintain profitable commercial fishing, so the controversy between commercial fishing and sports fishing continues. We must have commercial fishing to satisfy food demands. On the other hand, sports fishing brings tourists into communities and stores, lodges and outfits that rely on tourism. On one side, sports fishing regulations stipulate what size fish you can keep and what size fish has to be released. I would suggest that commercial fishing and self-reliance netting for personal use are both being abused in terms of overall numbers as well as fish size. You can put as many regulations in the books as you want, but if you don’t have the personnel to enforce them, the regulations are not worth the paper they are written on. In the past five years, more federal fishery management offices have been closed at the federal level. In provinces and territories, there aren’t enough enforcement officers to monitor the growing population involved both in sport, tourism and commercial fishing.

In many provinces and territories, forest management and wildlife management are two separate divisions, yet a productive fishery depends on what happens in forest management. Forestry management is responsible for roads and trails not infringing on waterways such as streams, marshes and watersheds— small streams that feed the lakes and rivers that protect and feed the fishery.

Fishing is important to tourism. Fishing attracts people. To bear this out, look at the number of fishermen who leave Whitehorse to go to Haines, Alaska, in the spring, early summer and fall. Sports stores also benefit, as do accommodations, the food industry, gas stations and, of course, the government, which sells fishing licenses. When you compare fishing to all other activities, fishing is a real family affair. You can’t lose when you go fishing, regardless of whether or not you catch a fish. The reward is that you had the pleasure of going fishing. There is no loser.

Personally, I consider myself blessed. I have fished the shores of New Brunswick, the shores of the Pacific, the Arctic, sunny Florida and everything in between. I credit to my wife, who will jump to go at the very mention of fishing, and to my former job as a conservation officer. There, I worked on the science and research side of things, dealing with upland birds and waterfowl.

One such study was the netting and tagging of American Eel just below the dam in Cornwall, Ontario. Generally, when I was detailed to a fishery study, I worked with a former student who had just finished university and taken a biologist’s job with the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Department. The one in question was from Michigan State University. He had never seen an American Eel, other than in a picture. He had never handled such a slimy creature. When we drove the boat in under the power dam, the waters were swirling with eel. He would reach in with a net and lift the eel to me. I would tag and measure it. He would record the information and then release the eel back into the waters of the St. Lawrence River.

One day at lunch, I took the biologist on a tour downriver. We came upon a dead horse floating in the water. It was bloated, so I knew its insides were loaded with eel. I bounced the bow off the large bloated stomach a couple times and we watched as eels came out of its mouth and rear end. Of course, the eel were feasting on the innards of the dead horse. Needless to say, my biologist’s stomach gave him some problems that day.

Back upriver, we drove the boat in and under the dam. Now he had his life jacket on for the first time. By mid-afternoon, they had started to release more water through the channel we were working in. Often, the boat jerked ahead. The bottom of it was covered with the slippery slime of eels. As my colleague reached over with the net for more eel, the boat bounced and he went overboard. I swear, as the Lord be my judge, no man should have been capable of getting back into that boat without help, but, within seconds, he was aboard, standing there, frantically brushing his clothes down, no doubt with the memory of that bloated horse we had seen earlier.

If you want to improve on your fishing success, I suggest picking up a book on the science of limnology. Limnology is a science on the behavior of lakes and rivers, including their varied temperature and physical changes. This is especially useful in the changing warm and cold seasons we experience here in the North. If you are a wise fisherman, you will know that there is an optimal temperature for each species of fish. A basic understanding of limnology will definitely enhance your dinner plate.

This week’s saying: “This generation, or any other generation, do not have the right to deprive all future generations of the fruits of these resources for short-term economic advantage.”

Local fishing in Whitehorse

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