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Commercial fish boats net 21,000 chum

Cowichan Bay was the site of a two-day chum opening this week — a rare event for the area in recent years. - Andrew Leong
Cowichan Bay was the site of a two-day chum opening this week — a rare event for the area in recent years.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

About 80 fishing boats hauled in chum salmon during this week’s two-day fishery outside Cowichan Bay.

But that Nov. 6 and 7 opening worried Canada’s former environment minister.

David Anderson wondered how dwindling coho stocks would be impacted by the chum fishery allowing some 21,000 fish to be taken.

“I’m less concerned about the chum stocks than the coho,” he told the News Leader Pictorial of the closed coho fishery.

“I don’t quite understand how they have such precise figures.”

Andrew Thomson of federal Fisheries said the chum harvest happened after the escapement target of 160,000 chum was reached — the number of chum the feds want to return for spawning.

Counting was helped by the river’s fish fence, plus traditional numbers and available habitat.

“We met our target for chum, and there’s an abundance in the channel.”

Thomson called the 21,000 chum “excess fish”, with the opening still allowing a sustainable chum fishery under federal management practices.

That chum take, he said, was “sculpted’ around the valley’s coho stocks.

“Seiners must release coho,” he said, noting about 20 seine boats and 60 gill-net crafts had come for chum.

“We want to avoid any potential impact on coho,” Thomson said.

But Anderson, a Cowichan Stewardship Council member, urged caution about further impacts on coho stocks.

“Coho returns in some island rivers have been good, but we need to build all stocks in the Cowichan River, particularly because coho have seen fragile stocks in some years.”

About 1,000 chinook died last month after a dry Cowichan River prevented upstream spawning during their regular run.

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