For the first time in half a century, commercial fishing vessels were scooping salmon out of Howe Sound last week.
Starting on Thursday (Aug. 22), the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) opened up an exploratory fishery for the area, said Herb Redekopp, DFO's chief of conservation and protection for the Lower Fraser. The goal of the three-day opening was to assess the strength of the pink salmon run travelling to the Squamish River.
“They felt like the runs were quite abundant,” he said.
It's an historic event, Redekopp noted. The last time commercial boats dipped their nets into the sound's water was in 1962. Throughout the trial, only two boats are allowed to fish at a time. They must use seine nets which encircle the fish and scoop them out of the sea. The equipment promotes better survival rates by helping fishers return unwanted fish caught in the haul, Redekopp noted.
DFO officials discussed the plan with recreational fishing and Squamish Nation representatives before going ahead with the experiment, Redekopp said. Each vessel had an independent observer aboard to monitor the vessel's take and any unwanted catch.
“They are quite pleased at the number of pinks the boats have been able to catch,” Redekopp said.
After the final haul, numbers were to be crunched and DFO officials will determine the possibility of opening up future pink runs to the commercial industry. Redekopp anticipates the report will be complete this week.
“I think this is a very unique opportunity,” he said.
Squamish Streamkeepers member John Buchanan went out to chat with the fishing vessels' crew on Friday (Aug. 23). The crew aboard the vessel Istra were aware of Howe Sound's environmental improvements and the return of sea life to the sound over the past decade, he said.
“They were pretty excited,” Buchanan said.
One vessel had packed its hold to the halfway mark with 25,000 pink salmon, he said. At the time, the independent observer recorded one Coho salmon accidently snagged in the load.
As long as it's done correctly, Buchanan said he's not against commercial fishing in the sound.