VICTORIA — The sign that welcomes anglers to Campbell River, B.C., “The Salmon Capital of the World,” isn’t going anywhere this summer despite tough, new federal catch restrictions protecting prized chinook salmon, says Murray Whelan, president of Tyee Marine and Fishing Supplies.
In April, Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced a recreational catch-and-release fishery until mid-July to allow maximum numbers of chinook salmon to reach their spawning grounds, followed by catch retention limits of up to two chinook depending on the fishing area and time of year.
“There’s still lots of opportunity that’s for sure,” says Whelan, whose Campbell River fish and tackle shop has been selling the hooks and lures outfitting countless fishing stories for almost 70 years.
He said catch and release doesn’t stop people from getting out on the water and hooking a salmon.
“That’s basically what we’re saying, ‘you can still go out and fish,’ ” he says. “We’re trying to emphasize the positive side.”
The fisheries minister also closed the commercial troll fishery for chinook in B.C.’s northern waters until Aug. 20 and off the west coast of Vancouver Island until Aug. 1. Restrictions on food and ceremonial access to chinook for Indigenous groups were imposed until July 15.
Chinook, the primary food source for the endangered southern resident killer whales, are also prized by anglers because they are the largest of the Pacific salmon, weighing up to 40 kilograms.
The restrictions are forcing many fishing guides and lodge operators on Vancouver Island and coastal B.C. to get creative this year, emphasizing the outdoor experience of fishing as opposed to landing a trophy-sized salmon or catching their limit on fish.
B.C.’s sport fishery generates more than $1 billion annually in revenues and employs 9,000 people, says Owen Bird, executive director of the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C.
“Nobody talks about how many you catch or how many you keep, it’s more about the fishing experience,” he says. “This is a bit of an introduction of this because of the restrictions put in place, but in fact when the question is asked of what do we have to offer in B.C. for chinook fishing or salmon fishing, it’s fishing is open and the fishing is good.”
Bird says when anglers go to Florida for redfish or the United States northeast for striped bass, they also must comply with catch and release restrictions.
“We have to be careful and not perpetually talk about the damage that’s done to our sports fishery and focus on, ‘Let’s be real here. It’s not closed,’ ” says Bird. “There are restrictions, sure, but there are still opportunities, and for many places how many you keep is not even part of the conversation. It’s just whether you can go.”
Fish lodge operator Ryan Chamberlain says catch-and-release restrictions are ushering in cultural shifts among guides who strive to give their customers a complete nature trip as opposed to landing a boat load of salmon.
“We can still provide an awesome fishing experience,” says Chamberlain, who owns Vancouver Island Lodge in Sooke, located about 40 kilometres west of Victoria. “I mean the thrill of catching a chinook salmon is just incredible and worth getting out and doing.”
Whelan says the retention limits and catch-and-release regulations are signs of change for the sports fishery, but getting out on the water and looking to hook the big one isn’t going away and neither is the salmon capital of the world.
“You can still catch lots of salmon here,” he says. “The sign is going to stay up. Campbell River does have an international reputation as being a destination for people to come salmon fishing. That’s not going to change.”
Getting there: https://sportfishing.bc.ca/ or https://www.campbellriver.travel/