By Catherine Norwood and Jamie Crawford
Crouching in the shallows of Canada’s Fraser River, arms full of a two-metre, very much alive, endangered White Sturgeon, was an “unforgettable experience” for Australian recreational fisher Jamie Crawford.
As a recreational fishing journalist based in South Australia, Jamie Crawford says there is nowhere here that might match the sturgeon experience.
Catching a big Murray Cod or perhaps a Barramundi might offer something similar, but there are no freshwater fishing opportunities in Australia where 100-kilogram fish are relatively common.
In British Columbia’s White Sturgeon catch-and-release recreational fishery big fish are the norm, and getting in the water is a mandatory part of the handling procedures.
To even go fishing requires a freshwater recreational fishing licence (C$20 per day, C$80 per year) with an additional sturgeon conservation stamp (C$15 per day) as authorisation for a single day of sturgeon fishing. Canada has implemented a user-pay system, where access is proportional to the cost of service delivery (which is greater in the case of conservation-dependant species such as White Sturgeon).
Every sturgeon of more than 1.5 metres in length must be released while still in the water, and fishers are advised in advance that this will mean getting wet. All fish are also scanned for passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags, which are routinely inserted under the skin as part of long-term research into the species funded through recreational fishing licences.
Jamie Crawford says in his case the tag reader provided by tour company BC Sportfishing Group revealed his sturgeon had already been caught and released three times. All 10 of the Australians who took part in the study tour were able to catch a sturgeon – the tour operators use echo finders and side scanners that image the river adjacent their boats to locate the fish. The largest sturgeon landed during the tour was 265 centimetres and estimated at 150 kilograms. Group members also landed three ‘virgin’ fish, which they then helped to tag.
Jamie Crawford says the White Sturgeon in the Fraser and Harrison rivers are the last remaining wild populations of the species. In the early 1990s, Canada’s White Sturgeon were recognised as endangered after being overfished for their highly prized caviar.
Today, management of the recreational fishery balances the Indigenous interests, represented by the Fraser River Peacemakers, with government, fisher and the broader community interests, who all work together for the preservation of the species.
Through education programs, tagging and monitoring efforts coordinated by the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, species movements and population densities have been tracked throughout the rivers. Recreational fishing licences have funded research, the creation of a sturgeon hatchery and restocking of some rivers in British Columbia.
Citizen science and stewardship have been pivotal in linking community engagement and participation of recreational fishing, and in fostering “custodianship” of the respective fisheries and surrounding environment.
The sturgeon fishing expedition was part of the study tour that followed the official 8th World Recreational Fishing Conference held in July in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, attended by 396 delegates representing 21 countries.
The Australian delegation was led by Frank Prokop, a longstanding industry leader and member of the FRDC’s Recfishing Research Subprogram steering committee, along with David Ciaravolo, executive officer of Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the Northern Territory (AFANT), and FRDC program manager Joshua Fielding.
“Australia’s remoteness means that we sometimes feel like we are a management backwater in terms of recreational fishing,” Frank Prokop says. “Seeing firsthand that we actually lead the world in many areas is invaluable, as is the opportunity to witness new and exceptional projects which we can implement and even improve on our return.”
The conference provided an opportunity to learn about resource allocation and how international fisheries are managed, post-release fish survival and post-release predation in catch-and-release fisheries, along with satellite and telemetry tagging of key recreational species.
Management strategies for declining fish stocks, engaging the community and citizen science, artificial reefs and habitat restoration, fish stocking programs and data and statistic collation were the topics of other presentations.
Joshua Fielding says it is clear that many nations are trying to work out adequate management techniques for recreational fisheries.
“This includes resource allocation between sectors – mainly between recreational and commercial interests – and how to manage recreational fisheries for different motivations.
“Do you manage it for as many fish as possible regardless of size, so that fishers are guaranteed to catch lots of fish? You might expect this type of management close to urban areas where there are many ‘non-expert’ fishers.
“Or do you manage for large fish that might be more rare? This might be expected in remote locations where people are willing to invest time and money in travelling and specialised gear, and where there is a greater chance of not catching a fish.”
Josh Fielding says Canada’s licensing for its recreational fisheries has generated good funding for research and management of its fisheries and provides a possible funding model for the sector in Australia.
The FRDC provided travel bursaries for 10 members of the Australian delegation through its Recfishing Research Subprogram in support of emerging leaders in the sector. In addition to Jamie Crawford, other sponsored delegates included: Sam Williams, a marine science PhD candidate at the University of Queensland; Isaac Tancred, a Western Australian tackle manufacturer; and Jackson Davis, a competition angler from NSW.
Recreational peak body representatives sponsored included: Evan Dixon, a competition angler and AFANT committee member; Michael Burgess, executive officer for VRFish, Victoria; James Florisson, research officer at Recfishwest, WA; and Travis Preece, northern Tasmanian regional representative for TARFish, Tasmania.
The FRDC also provided academic travel bursaries to Tasmanian fisheries scientist Sean Tracey and Domenic Holland, who works in the retail fishing tackle industry in WA and is completing a degree in marine science.
After the conference, the group began a week-long study tour through southern British Columbia, investigating the challenges faced and the programs and initiatives to support the longevity and sustainability of Canada’s recreational fishing sector.
The group had two coordinated hatchery tours. The first was the Seymour Trout Hatchery where Steelhead Trout, Coho Salmon and Chinook Salmon are hatched and reared for restocking nearby lakes and rivers.
The second was Kootenay Trout Hatchery where Rainbow Trout and White Sturgeon are reared. Both hatcheries are funded through recreational licensing for the sole purpose of restocking waterways to enhance fishing opportunities. The hatchery operations and restocking programs are managed by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of British Columbia.
The group also visited a habitat-restoration project on the lower Seymour River, where a fish fence was used to collect wild river-run Chinook Salmon and Coho Salmon for use in the hatchery. A community-funded task was also underway during the visit, removing a rockslide that had dammed a section of the river and stopped the natural spawning migration of salmon species and Steelhead Trout.
They met with the Fraser River Peacemakers board, which provides a vital link between the local Indigenous community and the recreational sector. The board works to maintain a harmonious relationship between the two sectors in the Fraser River region, which is one of Canada’s most culturally and recreationally important fishing regions and home to the White Sturgeon.
In addition to the sturgeon fishing expedition on the Fraser River, the group spent time with professional fishing guides off Vancouver Island to target Chinook Salmon and Cutthroat Trout in the Kootenay system at Cranbrook.
Jamie Crawford says resource allocation was a topic of particular interest to the group, with direct relevance to the Australian sector.
During the study tour, the group met with Adam Keizer, from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, to discuss resource allocation between the recreational, commercial and First Nations Aboriginal people and to gain an understanding of how the Canadian Government manages the resource of targeted species.
Adam Keizer told the group that Pacific Halibut, together with the five species of Pacific Salmon, were the key social and economic species in British Columbia. Managing a sustainable total allowable catch of these species between each of the stakeholders by reflecting cultural, economic, tourism and social balance is no easy task.
He said that negotiations between each sector based on mutual respect and understanding had resulted in an agreed legislated allocation for each of the sectors. For recreational fishers, the licensing system held a great deal of weight in evaluating participation in their sector and being able to negotiate their allocation.
As fisheries researcher Sean Tracey says, his take-home message was the importance of effective communication between all sectors.
“I was particularly interested to explore the management and grassroots perceptions on resource sharing between multiple sectors in Canadian fisheries.
“They have recognised that there is never a simple answer that will appease all, but this should not be a barrier to progress in ratifying resource-sharing allocations.”
By Jamie Crawford
For me, being a part of the 8th World Recreational Fishing Conference and study tour was a time of personal growth and development. The opportunity to be surrounded by some of the world’s leading researchers and management personnel was humbling. Participating in the bursary program has given me a sense of empowerment and inspiration to believe that we can make a difference to our industry.
For me personally, hailing from South Australia where we don’t have recreational licensing, seeing an effective licence system in place, it was obvious that it could make a difference to the recreational sector and to the broader community.
The benefit of an effective freshwater recreational licensing system and overarching representative body to facilitate projects and expenditure was evident.
Restocking programs, put-and-take fisheries, river access, stock allocation and community education were just some of the initiatives adopted as a direct outcome of recreational licensing in British Columbia.
The tidal (saltwater) licensing system benefited stock allocations and helped to assess the participation and economic value of saltwater fishing. Participation rates are seen to be on the decline in British Columbia, with funding channelled into re-engaging and connecting with recreational fishers of all ages.
The World Recreational Fishing Conference and study tour bursary project is a long-term investment in our emerging recreational fishing leaders. Some of the bursary participants already hold positions of influence in the recreational industry, and the flow-on benefits of representation and management will be seen in years to come. The varied backgrounds of the participants should see these benefits filter through into a diverse range of fishing industries throughout Australia.
FRDC Research Code: 2016-129
Frank Prokop, firstname.lastname@example.org