Vancouver Island fishing charters, especially those on the east coast of the island, will be faced with new practices until July 15 of this year.  While Chinook fishing remains open, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has mandated non-retention of Chinook salmon until that time.

Conservation is not a new concept.  Just as it has in hunting, conservation has played a large role in fishing for a very long time.  It’s no longer disputable that we need to accept certain conservation measures if we want to be able to hunt and fish into the future.

It should also be self-evident that any conservation measures imposed have to be 100% science-based and not politically motivated.  But that’s a topic for another day.  Right now I want to talk about conservation in broad terms.  

Generally speaking, I think we recognize that conservation is a good thing.  We know it plays a role in our ability to enjoy the resource we have.  Everyone who benefits from fishing, whether as commercial fishermen, First Nations, recreational anglers, or simply people who eat fish, has a vested interest in the sustainability of the fishery. 

If the resource goes away, jobs go away.  Ways of life go away.  Food goes away.  Economies flounder.  You don’t have to look too far for examples — think about the consequences of the relatively recent collapse of the cod fishery on the East Coast.  Salmon conservation is not something we can afford to take lightly.

That said, there are certain aspects of human nature that can work to undermine what we know to be reasonable and responsible.

As a species, we tend to be hoarders – the instinct is to pack away as many supplies as we can so we can make it through less abundant times.  This instinct is based in part on practicality and survival.  That part makes complete sense.  You make hay while the sun shines.  Winter is coming.  Etc. 

However, the instinct can also be fuelled by irrational fears, and that doesn’t make sense.  We convince ourselves that we’ll never have enough, or that some remote, unforeseen event will occur, and then we’ll need backup for our backup so we don’t go hungry.  If we can never have enough, we can never have too much . . . you understand where this is going.  I’m sure you’ve seen it manifest in your own life. 

A little fear is always healthy, but we need to keep it in check or it very quickly spirals out of control.

When the hoarding instinct rears its ugly head, for whatever reasons, here’s what happens.  Every spring, massive quantities of freezer-burnt salmon get thrown out.  Many pounds of fish go to waste.  I’ve done it myself. 

You probably have too, even though you may have started with the best of intentions.  Throwing out food is not a good feeling.  Particularly when other people are going without.

Just because you’re allowed to whack four salmon a day doesn’t mean you have to.  Anglers have a responsibility to think practically about whether they’re actually going to be able to use what they kill.  You have to remind yourself that if you underestimate your consumption by one fish, you’re probably not going to starve.

Above all, you can’t let irrationality and fear affect your behaviour, and you can’t succumb to greed for the sake of greed.  It doesn’t do anyone any service. 

I like eating wild salmon, and I’m fully in support of harvesting fish.  But I also want to be able to choose to harvest and eat a wild salmon 10 and 20 years from now and beyond.

If we’re going to participate in and benefit from this fishery, if we’re truly interested in our communities and in our economies, we have a responsibility to make sure that the fishery continues to be viable.

As anglers, what we can do on a day to day basis is to take a pragmatic, rational and respectful approach to the fishery, and to the general concept of conservation.

In the larger context, we also have to focus on exactly what conservation measures are going to lead to sustainability.  That’s a completely different discussion. 


Part 1: New Chinook Salmon Fishing Regulations 2019
Part 2: Chinook Salmon Retention in the Wake of the New Regulations
Part 3: Sportfishing, Catch and Release, and the New Salmon Fishing Regulations