Is fishing for sockeye salmon in the Fraser River system, as it is currently practiced, sport fishing? Or is it simple harvesting and, if so, should that be allowed to continue or should more sporting methods be employed?
Of course sockeye fishing as currently practiced in the Fraser system is sport fishing. Federal government regulations define sport fishing as “fishing for recreational purposes” with anglers prohibited from commercializing their catch by sale, trade or barter. The newly revised Fisheries Act goes a step further and says that “recreational in relation to a fishery means that fish is harvested under the authority of a licence for personal use of the fish or for sport.”
In this case, the reference to sport isn’t intended to make some philosophical point. It simply reflects the reality that some anglers don’t intend to keep their catch, but to release it with a minimum of harm.
As the new Act makes clear, harvesting for personal use is a legitimate activity. As Bill Otway kept reminding us, it is a right that goes back to Magna Carta. To say that ordinary Canadians should not have access to a share of Fraser sockeye because these particular fish stop feeding as they enter fresh water is an argument that threatens important elements of the recreational fishery. Such a position not only would concede to First Nations and commercial harvesters’ sole access to these fish once they leave the salt chuck, but could be used to justify confiscating our access to a host of other marine species.
The reference to “more sporting methods” in the question seems intended to reflect an elitist argument that the only proper fishing techniques are those in which the angler is able to trick or entice his prey into actively attacking a lure. Perhaps this was the justification for not allowing public access to crab and lobster on the Atlantic coast. Do we really want to replicate that situation with crab and prawn and a bunch of other tasty critters?
By the way, what is the proper “sporting method” to apply to oysters and clams, especially the elusive Geoduck?
I personally don’t think that the “Fraser River Floss” fishery can be called sport fishing. I think by definition sport fishing is the act of fishing in a sporting manor. This means that the fish, in this case–sockeye, should have the choice to bite the lure, fly or bait. With this sockeye fishery on the Fraser the most common way of catching these fish is bottom bouncing with a heavy weight and a very long leader. With this set-up, the weight is bounced along the bottom with, or slightly slower than, the speed of the current. The long leader, usually reaching four to six feet in length, typically has a sizable hook attached with a small tuft of bright colored wool. The leader simply follows the weight downstream and inevitably, due to the volume of fish (on a good year), finds its way through the fishes mouth as they open and close. The hook usually plants itself on the outside of the fishes face, snagging the fish. This is why this method is called “flossing”. Many would argue that you are snagging fish which is illegal in British Columbia. I feel that this fishery is nothing more than a selfish meat grab.
The unfortunate thing is that sport fishing tackle shops can make a killing selling tackle during these Fraser River sockeye openings. I feel that due to the amount of unethically snagged fish this fishery should either be closed and or heavily regulated.
I personally am not a fan of this fishery!
My thought on this is that it is a meat fishery. With the long leaders and bottom bouncing technique used to catch these fish, its not much of a sport… that is until you get one on–then it becomes a sport fishery. The thousands of people who take part in this fishery, when its open, seem to enjoy the fight and the ability to take home fresh fish.
What does need to be changed is the bycatch of Chinook by bottom bouncing. Chinook will bite while bar fishing or other techniques and should not be targeted by bottom bouncers.
I have taken part in this fishery in the past and, in fact, quite enjoyed the anticipation of the schools coming in. I now, however, choose not to take part as I have seen this fishery become ugly with guys mishandling fish and even fist fights breaking out on bars along the Fraser River.
This is an interesting question and one that many have debated over the years. As you suggest, some argue that the Fraser River sockeye fishery is more akin to harvesting than to fishing. I disagree. Simply put, the Fraser River sockeye fishery is the single largest sport fishing opportunity in British Columbia. It is a fishery in which average anglers equipped with inexpensive equipment can have the opportunity to catch one or two of our public-owned sockeye to serve to their friends and families. Take a trip to the river during the fishery any you’ll see a cross section of British Columbians interacting with their environment, their fisheries resource, and with each other in a way that they otherwise would not.
Fishing is a special pursuit. It is an opportunity to connect with other anglers and to reconnect to a simpler time in our lives (or at least what we believed was a simpler time in our lives) and feel the excitement and pride of catch a fish to take home to our family. I still feel that same excitement every time I catch a fish. The anglers on the banks of the Fraser will, to a person, tell you that they are “fishing” for sockeye. In my view, anything else is just an argument in semantics.
The current method of fishing or should I say flossing for sockeye on the Fraser is merely a quick way to fill the freezer.
I would not consider the current methods of fishing as sport fishing and would like to see the name changed to meat-hunting.
In the world of fishing the goal is to convince the fish that what we have to offer is a good choice for a next meal. When salmon are returning to their spawning grounds to finish their journey, I find “flossing” to be an unfair way to catch these returning fish. They are not actually taking the offerings but instead just have the long leader pass through their mouths until the hook impales them on the outside of their face. I may be wrong but it looks to me like these fish are actually being snagged. Last time I looked it is not legal to snag a fish in BC and retain it. I’d really like to see how popular this fishery would be if a leader length restriction was implemented (say 3ft max).
The worse part of this fishery is the fact it has spilled over to other river systems in the winter and I now see anglers flossing steelhead in the Vedder. In my humble opinion if the hook is not in the mouth of the fish then it was foul hooked. Many of the anglers on the Fraser are only out to partake in the blood bath while filling their freezer.
Let’s all remember the first word in sport fishing is sport.
To my mind and admittedly I am not a salmon fisherman although I occasionally dabble, the river sockeye fishery should not be considered a sport fishery, especially in the Fraser River system. I don’t believe that sockeye will take a lure or bait with any consistency and that the vast majority of sockeye taken from the Fraser are caught by bottom bouncing, snagging or flossing–as many prefer to call it.
The fish are stacked, like firewood, in holding areas like and when a line is tossed, with a weight bouncing along the bottom attached to a long leader with a bare hook and a little bit of wool (the wool only serves to keep the hook off the bottom, it cracks me up to hear “fishermen” arguing over which colour of wool works best ) the long leader gets caught in the fishes open mouth where it is drawn through by the swing of the line until it catches in the fishes mouth, sometimes giving the appearance that the fish actually had a hankering for a little piece of wool. Hence the term, “flossing”.
Now that being said I don’t actually have a problem with any of that as long as you call it what it is, it’s harvesting, not fishing. And if the DFO wants to maintain a harvest for sockeye and the stocks can sustain it then I say no problem, fly at er! Net them, floss them, stand on a rock and throw a trident at them for all I care; take your fish and go home.
The real problem occurs when these once a year “fishermen” go back out on the river and use the same technique for other salmon that are actual sport fish that will willingly take a lure that is actually fished. Regulations should be in place to protect the other stocks from bottom bouncers, in my opinion.
As to the sockeye, snag away! Just don’t call it fishing.
When the Fraser River sockeye return in abundance and all the conservation requirements are met, I am able to support the retention of sockeye salmon only when the ensuing fishery is clearly identified for
what it really is, a harvest! Admittedly, I find it offensive, contradictory and insulting when it is suggested that said fishery falls under the umbrella of that which every reasonable person defines as recreational
sports fishing. In my opinion, the lack of clarity exhibited by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (FOC) has unnecessarily minimized the perceptual integrity of the sport fishing fraternity. In light of FOC’s inappropriate
bundling, rivers other than the Fraser are enduring an onslaught of harvesters newly armed with a much darker interpretation of acceptable behaviour.
I am of the belief that much of the contention associated with the topic at hand could have been avoided had the Fraser River sockeye fishery been decisively identified as a harvest opportunity only. Such
clarification could have cleanly defined the methods used to harvest these sockeye as an exception to the standard, a style of angling not to be employed in any existing sports fishery. By repeatedly
proclaiming and regulating this fishery and its angling practices as a food harvest exception FOC could have avoided undermining a the long standing belief that our sports fishery programs incorporate a
philosophy of conservation, sustainability and above all the ethical practice of catching a variety of species.
Now, returning to my opening statement, when the Fraser River sockeye harvest is made available for the right reasons it gives those who enjoy consuming fish an ability to procure some of the finest eating
fish on the planet. I would even go as far to suggest that a significant percentage of those farming the river quite enjoy the hooking and battling that comes from this exceptionally unique method of long leader
bottom bouncing. Though not my cup of tea, I fully understand the associated excitement that consumes anglers when a crowded bar appreciates the arrival of a significant crop.
All in all I have absolutely no issue with any component of a sockeye harvest when labelled as such and identified as a “Special Angling Exception.” The fact that FOC holds the recreational sports fishing
community with such little regard is testament to the fact that we sports fishers are a long way from appreciating the respect we deserve.