“The Poacher” – Lions Bay Community News – Dec. 2013

Cormorant killed by Monofilament fishing line at Passage Island, November 2013
Cormorant killed by monofilament fishing line at Passage Island, November 2013

Poaching can be a serious challenge for marine conservation. MLSS has witnessed many incidents of poaching in Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) in Howe Sound over the years. Howe Sound is closed all year to any fishing for lingcod or rockfish (including catch and release) in Howe Sound, if you witness an infraction report it to DFO

See below for an article by MLSS director, Glen Dennison, on poaching in the Howe Sound area.

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The Poacher

Featured in Lions Bay Community News, December 2013

Written by Glen Dennison

With the reduction of pollutants into the waters and the repairing of marine habitat, British Columbia is making headway in returning Howe Sound closer to its nature state. As a reward we can now observe porpoises in large numbers, and even the odd humpback whale (this last summer and fall). But similarly, analogously to a book, let’s not judge it by its cover, for all is not well deeper in Howe Sound. We are seeing events that indicate possible poor health in the Sound; the death of almost the entire population of sunflower stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides), loss of large number of rockfish, and glass sponge beds that are under stress from human activities.

There is much to be concerned about and still remediation work to do. Some of the threats are from large corporations and energy mega-projects, these are big in size, being easy to recognize and therefore resist. Hence they are opposed by significant organized public resistance. It’s a situation similar to a giant bulldozer readying to knock down a sacred forest of ancient trees, and in front of them, a large mass of resolute people there to stop it. It’s a well publicized threat and one that can be identified to oppose.

But not all that threatens the forest is big and carries a target on it. Behind the backs of the determined resisters, in the same forest is a slow moving, stealthy, quiet threat– maybe similar to the pine wood beetle that destroys a forest.

For Howe Sound, this hidden and almost totally ignored threat that is destroying the rockfish stocks, is the poacher.

Rockfish are slow to recover and long-lived and incredibly vulnerable. Once hooked and pulled to the surface the swim bladder inside the fish expands and forces the entrails out the fish’s mouth and cause the eyes to bulge hideously. Returning the fish to the depths alive is improbable.

How severe and wide spread is this poaching problem?

On November 3, 2013, on a dive at the Passage Island Western reefs, I observed the reef was covered in mono-filament fishing line, “an area that has been designated a rockfish conservation area (RCA), that does not allow hook & line fishing”. Very few rockfish were present and the ones that I did find were small below the age of reproduction. This is in contrast to a healthy population several decades ago, that I had seen repeatedly.

Touring around the reef we came across a cormorant with its neck caught in monofilament, ominously and morbidly hanging dead, and inverted as if in a death sentence inverse hanging. The monoline taking yet another victim as it silently and almost invisibly drapes across the reef peaks and chasms. Cormorants are not the only animals that die in the killing web of fishing line. The Puget Sound king crab and similar box crab also are easily snared in the monofilament, and then, in an attempt to escape only succeeds in winding the line around their thorny exoskeletons. I have lost track of the number of times I have had to cut king crab free from a tangled cloud of fish line.

What can we do to stop this illegal fishing? I have witnessed the same boat load of fishermen around Bowyer Island week after week. Politely several times I informed them that this was a DFO RCA, and that hook and line fishing was not allowed. The effort was returned with blank looks and ignored. Hour after hour, weekend after weekend, the same group worked over the reefs.

Believe me when I say there is not that many fish down there anymore. A small group can destroy a reef population easily, for rockfish tend to bite at anything in front of them. To add to the frustration, calls to the DFO anti-poaching line only result in a recorded message at times or a very pleasant lady in Prince Rupert asking where Howe Sound is. Never in roughly 15 to 20 different cell calls did an enforcement officer investigate.

Where is the enforcement?*Are the RCA’s only RCA’s in name? Are we as a society incapable of controlling our consumption of marine animal resources? Can more public participation help stop the total loss of fish?

We read and then lament about other countries hunting their rhino’s and tigers to extinction, yet, are we any better if we deplete the rockfish populations to zero here in Canada… a forward thinking environmentally concerned country? Well we have pushed two different species of rockfish to extinction in Howe Sound, and if we are not careful the entire population of all rockfish will be gone.

* Noting that I did finally get a conservation officer on line and was informed that they are few in numbers and working at full capacity. It’s not their fault, we need more of them.

As each generation of humans emerge into awareness, we get used to lower numbers of fish and then think that this value is normal. The effect is called, shifting or sliding base line (coined by Dr. Daniel Pauly – UBC Fisheries Centre). It’s unknown what the normal natural levels the Howe Sound fish populations should be at; particularly if the fish stocks were unrecorded before human resource exploitation began.

A Few Rockfish FactsRockfish live up to 135 years for some species.

Rockfish give live birth

The older and large a rockfish is, the great number of young it produces.

Two species of rockfish have gone extinct in Howe Sound at the hands of humans and two species that came very close;

Lost from the SoundBlack rockfish, Sebastes melanops  (reintroduced at Point Atkinson by the Vancouver Aquarium)

Bocaccio, Sebastes paucispinis

Near extinctionYelloweye rockfish, Sebastes ruberrimus,

Canary rockfish, Sebastes pinniger

Howe Sound, which is area 28, is closed to all line and hook harvest of rockfish.

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