Salmon fishing banned on Birkenhead 

Salmon fishing on the Birkenhead River near Mount Currie has been banned to protect a vulnerable chinook species.

"Our goal is to have zero impact on the fish," said Dave Brown, an executive member of the newly formed Squamish-Lillooet Sport Fish Advisory Committee.

According to Brown, the ban has received the full support of the Pemberton Wildlife Association, the Whistler Angling Club and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The new regulation – which restricts salmon fishing between the Bailey bridge north of Mount Currie and the river’s canyon – went into effect Aug.1 and will continue until Sept. 15.

Birkenhead chinook are a genetically unique strain of salmon.

Brown called the fish "white springs," referring to their colouring and time of year they enter the Fraser River system.

The chinook leave saltwater in February and enter the Fraser. The fish then make their way into the Birkenhead in mid-May and hold in the river for three months until they spawn in August and September.

"There are not too many (chinook) that spend as much time in freshwater," said Brown.

Brown also noted fishing for sockeye salmon is not permitted either because there is a possibility of accidentally hooking a chinook.

"We don’t want anyone fishing for salmon," he said.

There has been a voluntary salmon fishing ban on the river for the past two years.

An average of 370 chinook salmon have returned to the Birkenhead annually over the past 10 years. The number of returning sockeye is also less than had been forecast earlier this year.

According to a report from the federal fisheries department, the reduced returns are most likely due to low water levels and higher-than-normal water temperatures from a below-average snowpack and continued dry weather.

Destruction of spawning and rearing habitat is considered to play a significant role as well.

The Birkenhead River, however, is not completely closed to fishing. Trout and Dolly Varden can still be caught, but only with fly-fishing tackle.

"Chinooks will chase lures. It’s not an elitist thing," explained Brown.

"We need everybody to co-operate to make this work," he said, noting that the river could be in danger of being closed – and losing the chinook – altogether if the ban is not respected.

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