Concerned anglers and charter operators, who are growing increasingly upset with the surge in intensity of commercial crabbing in certain areas around the south island, have started making noise. A lack of available crabs for the public fishery has often been the normal and valid complaint, after commercial fishermen have depleted crab abundance in areas close to anglers’ home ports.
Sadly, DFO has not responded effectively to these complaints over the years, so the issue keeps occurring. But the current problem is more about safety than crab abundance.
In late May a member of Sidney Anglers Association (SAA) executive provided the SFAB a written account of sports fishermen running into commercial crab gear and some dangerous circumstances occurring in Sidney Channel. With one small marker identifying a string of between 10 – 20 traps, it becomes very dangerous for anglers, whose gear is set to be close to the sandy or pebble bottom when trying to catch a Chinook, as they may snag the traps and lines on the bottom. For boaters is critical to know where the crab traps are positioned for safety purposes. If a commercial trap line is poorly marked or the float becomes buried below the surface because it gets fouled by kelp, anglers have no idea there are traps present.
In addition, incidents of short floating, which is illegal (Short floating, a term used to describe the float being purposefully set below the surface and not visible to boaters) are now being reported in Sidney and Sooke.
The SAA member’s letter echoed other members concerns after several had faced dangerous snag ups when their downrigging gear was caught on commercial crabbing lines. Besides the hundreds of dollars in lost fishing gear experienced by the anglers, they really could face serious danger. This danger is especially possible for novice boaters in smaller fishing boats when bottom bouncing cannonballs in the moving water like that of Sidney Channel. This is actually very serious. If not addressed properly and soon, loss of life is conceivable.
Throughout this summer Sooke salmon anglers and charter operators have experienced the same challenges as occurred in Sidney due to intense commercial crabbing. The sheer volume of traps and trap lines, poorly marked gear and buried floats are becoming regular occurrences from Secretary Island to Sheringham Point. In Sooke, there has been a long standing pact between local commercial crabbers and sports fishermen that has both parties agreeing to voluntary no go areas to avoid gear conflicts and danger during key months. But it now seems some of the less scrupulous commercial operators have chosen to ignore this historic gentlemen’s agreement in Sooke.
The result is a plethora of commercial traps set directly where some of Sooke anglers’ key salmon fishing grounds are located. If the commercial trap lines are marked incorrectly or if the commercial marker floats are buried for any reason, there is a clear increased risk to the anglers. And that’s not just the risk of losing downrigger gear.
It appears to be a few commercial license holders are spoiling it for all. We have even heard reports of commercial crab boats flying at high speed through the angling fleet without concern for their safety. All these complaints have already been brought to the direct attention of DFO crab managers through our SFAB Ground Fish Shellfish Working Group. Additionally, the issue was discussed at the recent DFO Crab Sectoral meeting in Nanaimo. Initially, it appears not much will be done by DFO. It is therefore important we, at SVIAC, keep up the pressure on this issue and continue pursuing a solution through DFO. Some in the angling community are becoming increasingly upset by the situation, so much so that a special meeting about the issue was held in Sooke recently. Anglers there want action and soon. If nothing is done by the authorities and the problem persists, it is conceivable that someone might look at a vigilante style resolution. No one wants that, so we all need to work this out.
A big part of this problem is the landed value of commercially caught Dungeness crab. Its sky high and commercial license holders are fishing as productively as they can to maximize profits. In the spring and summer of 2014 the landed price on the wharf for commercial caught Dungeness crab doubled, due to a surging demand from the Far East. About 30% of all of Canada’s Dungeness crabs are exported to China currently. With the Chinese economy reportedly slowing down that might lead to less demand overseas and a subsequent lower price, but action is needed for the Sidney and Sooke angling community.
We suggest the best approach right now is to be vigilant on the water. No one wants anglers to be hurt or lose gear when salmon fishing. In addition, anglers should keep a record of illegal commercial crabbing activity and report it to SVIAC, the local SFAB and DFO. If you find evidence short floated gear keep a record, if you witness improperly marked crab gear keep a record and if you witness a commercial crab fisherman up to no good, get the license number off the boat and record the date, time and place of the occurrence. Send us an email about the incident you saw with details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also use your cellphone camera to capture a picture as that gives the authorities solid information to follow up. Another option is to bring proposals for closed to commercial crab fishing areas to the SFAB for approval.
We have recommended a special meeting be organized between the area commercial crab fishing rep, some local charter operators and the local SFAB reps, to discuss how this issue can be addressed in a conciliatory manner. SVIAC is watching this issue carefully. We certainly do not want to see anyone getting too frustrated and take matters into their own hands. DFO and Transport Canada must be thoroughly briefed about the problem. The authorities have an obligation to actively resolve the problem and soon before people get hurt.