Skeena and Nass River Watersheds, including tributaries

Regulation Number: 
2023-06-01
Status: 
Proposed
Region: 
Region 6 - Skeena
MU: 
6-7
6-8
6-9
6-10
6-11
6-12
6-13
6-14
6-15
6-16
6-17
6-18
6-19
6-20
6-21
6-22
6-23
6-24
6-25
6-26
6-27
6-28
6-29
6-30
Regulation Type: 
Method/Gear/Bait
Species: 
All freshwater fish species in Skeena and Nass River watersheds other than salmon
Closing Date: 
January 6, 2023 at midnight
Decision Statement: 

Pending

Current Regulations: 

Bait ban regulations in the Skeena and Nass watershed are varied. Click here for map and more information.

Proposed Regulations: 

Year-round bait ban for all finfish other than salmon in Skeena and Nass Watersheds including tributaries.  

Rationale: 

In 2021, the Skeena summer steelhead aggregate returned at the lowest level in 65 years entering the extreme conservation concern zone (ECCZ).  In response, the province of BC implemented in-season variation orders to restrict natural bait use on all streams in the Skeena and Nass River watersheds for all fin fish other than salmon, followed by a steelhead angling closure on the Skeena River.  In 2022, Skeena summer steelhead aggregate populations were assessed to be in the conservation concern zone (CCZ).  In response, an in-season variation order was completed banning natural bait for a second year in a row.  With increasing instances of poor anadromous productivity and the implementation of conservative angling regulations prohibiting the retention of char in streams and reducing the retention opportunities for trout in streams, Skeena region fisheries is proposing a permanent bait ban for streams in the Skeena and Nass watersheds.  It is important to note this proposal applies to river/streams but does not restrict the use of bait in lakes.

Generally, combinations of resident rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, bull trout and Dolly Varden are present during recreational steelhead and salmon fisheries.  These species caught incidentally by anglers are regulated as non-retention except for resident trout which have a short retention opportunity (July 1 -Oct 31). Literature indicates that cutthroat trout post release mortality rates are as high as 48% when caught using natural baits. In comparison, post release cutthroat trout mortality rates associated with artificial gear is reported to be lower than 5% (Harding and Coyle 2011). Similar to cutthroat trout, post release mortality rates associated with natural baits is higher (28%) for rainbow trout when compared to post release mortality rates on artificial lures (7%) (Harding and Coyle 2011). A literature review of post release mortality rates for winter –run steelhead concluded that the post release mortality rate for bait caught winter –run steelhead was less than 10%, although hooks baited with natural baits penetrated critical areas 50% of the time versus 10% for artificial (Mongillo 1984). Similarly, a mortality study conducted on the Keogh River indicated a bait caught post release mortality rate of 9% for winter-run steelhead compared to 4% for artificial lures (Hooton 2001). During this experiment, angler effort was heavily biased towards anglers using artificial lures, however, anglers using bait caught 2.4. times more fish (Hooton 2001). All the literature reviewed indicated that mortality rates are higher for species caught using natural baits compared to artificial lures. A local study on the Keogh River indicated that the success of steelhead angers using natural bait was 2.4 times that of anglers using natural lures (Hooton 2001). 

Changing weather conditions (relatively warmer, more precipitation) have allowed for increased angling effort in November and December. Concerns for steelhead population health and abundance with recent and drastic declines in ocean productivity are also important factors to consider.   Climate change has also had an impact on summer stream discharge, resulting in increased stream temperatures, further taxing cold-water species such as summer steelhead and bull trout.  

In addition to managing species risk, this regulation change also reduces regulatory complexity.   There are currently 20 river-specific bait bans (not including associated tributaries) in the Skeena and Nass watersheds and this variation order would reduce these regulations to one line item. A watershed and year-round approach will streamline enforcement, reduce the need for repeated in-season VO’s and allow for clear and consistent understanding by anglers.  Moving to a more conservative angling management approach in the face of changing productivity and climate supports precautionary management approach for anadromous and resident freshwater species in the Skeena and Nass watersheds.