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Pink Salmon Bonanza: Squamish's new tackle shop thrives amidst record run

Coop's Bait and Tackle shop in Squamish is buzzing with anglers seeking gear for the exceptional pink salmon run. Learn why the run is the talk of the town.

Well before Coop's Bait and Tackle opens Thursday morning, three young men are waiting out front of the new Squamish shop. 

By the time owner David Cooper has arrived and served them, two more seasoned fishermen are there, looking for gear. 

It is a sign of the popularity of the new store, which opened at the south end of Cleveland Avenue in August, but it is also a symbol of the incredible pink salmon run this season. 

Cooper said most people coming in these days are primarily there for gear associated with fishing pinks. 

Many are heading to the opening of Furry Creek into Howe Sound, Cooper said. 

"It's pretty much the only public access ocean spot that you can get into without having a boat and it's the only spot where you can retain the pinks," he noted. 

"You can't retain them in the rivers, so if people want to keep them, you have got to go to Furry Creek or get a boat."

Currently, you can retain four pinks per day, with a possession limit of eight. 

Most of the people he sees in the store are from out of town, coming here to fish.

"A lot of the locals are avoiding it. It's just a lot of tourism. People come from all over for this."

With the pinks spawning upriver, there's a lot of eggs in the water, which is good for bull trout, Cooper said, noting that is what he hears some locals going for.

Cooper advises that if you are new to fishing or can't get out on the water, to hire a local guide.

He says it is hard to say when the season will shift and there won't be as many pinks, but for now, Howe Sound is "loaded with them."

"Doing a day with a guide is much better than sitting and watching YouTube videos. You get with a guide and it's actually hands-on. I mean, it's the way I learned anyway," he said. 

"It's just a really good opportunity for people who maybe can't access it themselves, who want to get out and be a part of what is going on out there. It's amazing."

Always check the government regulations for fishing in local waters

Why more fish?

Richard Beamish, an emeritus scientist at the Pacific Biological Station, says it is too soon to say conclusively whether it will be a record year for pink salmon. 

"We'll know soon, whether it's a record year or not, but it's going to be close," he said. 

"If you look all around the Pacific everywhere — virtually everywhere — pink salmon have come back in astonishingly high abundances."

But there is virtually "no scientific understanding" of why this is happening, he said. 

A wee salmon lesson

There are odd and even years for pink salmon. 

"What it refers to is the number of the year when they come back to spawn. So if the number is an odd number, like 2023, we call those odd-year pink. And then next year, 2024, those will be even-year pink,” he noted.

"What's really important about that is that there's really no interbreeding between those two groups.”

So, the even-year pink and odd-year pink never interbreed. 

The genetic differences [between the two] are noteworthy, he added. 

Beamish said that in the last few years, there have been some unprecedented changes in the overall structure of salmon returns that are caught in commercial fisheries by all countries. 

In 2020 — which is an even year — there was a collapse of the total catch of salmon by all countries.

It was down 37% from the previous year, Beamish said.

This was for all species of salmon, but pinks were a major source of that decline, according to Beamish.

"And then in 2021, things were back to normal again. And people said the previous year was an anomaly. But in 2022, it happened again." 

So now, with this year's abundance of pink salmon, next year's numbers will be important, he said. 

"There is no scientific understanding for what's going on," he said.

"This is entirely a consequence of something that happened in the ocean, meaning that there was greatly improved ocean survival." 

Ocean survival is typically about 5%, Beamish said, even in a good year. 

"Meaning that 95% of all pink salmon die no matter what happens."

Something happened in the oceans around the world, which is interesting given that there are different ocean ecosystems all around the Pacific, he added.

This something happened in 2022, when the pink fry went into the ocean,resulting in improved ocean survival, he said. 

"And the only thing that can do that is climate. Because you have got different currents, you have got different oceans. So, the common factor in all of this has to be climate. So something in our climate in 2022 that greatly improved the food that's available for pink salmon,” he said. 

He believes this is related to the warming of oceans. 

"The changes in climate that have influenced the ocean in the last 15 or more years have been good for pink salmon. And the changes are that there's been an increase in what we call ocean heat content," he said. 

Ocean heat content is the energy absorbed and stored by oceans.

Pink salmon have benefited from this and not just in our region, he said. 

"Ocean heat content increases have been good for pink salmon in the North Pacific, and that is indisputable," he said. 

"There are more salmon in the North Pacific now than in recorded history."

Not all good news

While the pink salmon run is good news, there is, at the same time, an equally precipitous decrease in chum salmon, Beamish stressed.

Russia is seeing declines and chum returns have virtually collapsed on the Central Coast

Chum salmon have collapsed in British Columbia, he said. 

"At the same time, we've got this unbelievable return of pink salmon [but], two months from now, [we'll] be talking about why is there a collapse of chum salmon? And both the increase in pink and the collapse of chum is the same explanation — we don't know."

What can we do to help? 

Beamish said that while the changes in the ocean are impacting salmon most, work to improve salmon habitat, such as the removal of the Spit in Squamish at the confluence of the Squamish River and Howe Sound, is helpful.

"When you improve the freshwater habitats, you are providing better opportunities for the differently adapted population to survive better," he said.

"You are providing greater opportunities for populations to adapt to climate and ocean conditions, which means that yes, you can do something about climate and ocean; you just did it." 

See a quick tour of Coop's Bait and Tackle below.

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