Sea Run Salmon Season Bag Limit – What does it mean for anglers?
This is the first fishing season ever, starting on 1 October 2021, that Fish and Game NZ has taken the unprecedented step of introducing new regulations allowing for a sea-run salmon season bag limit. The new season bag limit, set at just 2 fish, applies to both the Central South Island and the North Canterbury Fish and Game regions. Just what the impact of this will be on anglers and the salmon fishery as a whole we will have to wait and see. It will be interesting to find out if Christchurch anglers in particular will refrain from purchasing a fishing license. I hope not.
So why have Fish and Game set a sea-run salmon season bag limit?
In case you haven’t heard the salmon fishery in Canterbury is in a poor state with fewer and smaller fish returning each season. It would be fair to say that this downward trend first began over 20 years ago so it isn’t something new. However, it is now got to the stage where things are pretty bad with some predicting the salmon fishery in New Zealand South Island could collapse altogether. Given the state of the salmon fishery Fish and Game needed to do something. I talk about some of the reasons behind the problem here in Poor Salmon Returns – Where have all the salmon gone? Kingfish Rising!
Reducing the season bag limit to just 2 fish should, in theory, increase the number of returning salmon making it to the spawning streams in the high country to reproduce. Fish and Game is hoping that this radical change to the way the salmon fishery is managed will reduce the angler catch by 35%.
Angler catch surveys carried out by Fish and Game show that between 40 and 60% of salmon returning to spawn in Canterbury are caught by anglers.
I remember Ross Millichamp, a former manager of North Canterbury Fish and Game, saying several decades ago at a salmon symposium held in Christchurch to discuss the poor state of the salmon fishery even back then, that he believed that just 100 anglers caught as many salmon as all the other license holders in Canterbury added together.
From my experience, I would tend to agree with Ross. Those with the necessary skill, time and knowledge, along with access to a jet boat to reach upriver holding water have always caught a lot more fish than those who cast in hope at, or near, the river mouths. I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with that in any way.
The great majority of salmon anglers catch the grand total of no salmon each year regardless of how good returns were in that year. The second-largest group of salmon anglers catch just one fish. That being the case the new season bag limit that has just been introduced is expected to affect only about 5% of salmon anglers.
So how will the new sea-run salmon season bag limit work?
According to Fish & Game NZ, it works like this:
“Holders of a whole season licence will be eligible to endorse their licence to fish for Sea Run Salmon in the North Canterbury and Central South Island regions and keep up to a maximum of two sea-run salmon for the whole season across both regions.
Once you have bought an eligible whole season fishing licence you can apply for a free Sea Run Salmon endorsement. With your endorsement, you will receive a Sea Run Salmon Season Bag Limit Card.
You will be required to carry your Sea Run Salmon Season Bag Limit Card with you and record immediately all the details of any sea-run salmon kept.
At the end of the season, all anglers must return their Season Bag Limit Card to either North Canterbury or Central South Island Fish & Game, regardless of how many such salmon were taken or killed.
You must produce your Season Bag Limit Card to a Fish & Game Ranger on demand.”
Although this is a radical change to the way things have been done in New Zealand it is a system that has been operated successfully by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the recreational salmon fishery in Alaska for decades.
The numbers of returning salmon are carefully monitored and when enough salmon have successfully passed a preset point the fishing season is declared open. It means that the fishery is better protected in years when there are poor returns. The angler catch can be lowered or increased in line with the numbers of fish returning to their spawning rivers.
You can read more about the new Canterbury sea-run salmon season bag limit on the Fish & Game NZ website here.
How are the Recreational Salmon Fisheries Managed in Alaska?
You can read more about how the system works in Alaska in these two articles. Note the variation in catch limits is because of the different dates that the articles were written.
There are also other measures that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game employs to protect the fishery such as closing it early and changing over to catch-and-release only partway through the season if the numbers of returning salmon are below projections.
Here in New Zealand, we have always set the salmon fishing regulations for the season ahead before it starts and they are not changed halfway through.
King salmon (Chinook) populations have declined in Alaska’s world-famous Kenai River, and other rivers, in recent years. Rapid environmental change from a warming climate is thought to be a major contributor to the decline.