The BC government has suspended angling in rivers and streams of the southern Kootenay due to warm water temperatures and low flows.
Effective last Saturday through Sept. 15, virtually all fishing is suspended in streams and rivers in an area south of Nelson from below Lower Arrow Lake in the west across to the Kootenay River east of Cranbrook.
“We don’t do closures very often or lightly,” says regional natural resources manager John Krebs. “I have not seen it like this before. I have been in the region for 25 years, and there were some dry years in 1985 and 2003, but in terms of early high temperatures, we have never had such a long hot spell that early in the season in several decades. So it is really unusual.”
The Columbia River from the Keenleyside Dam to the Washington state border and the Kootenay River from the Brilliant Dam to the confluence with the Columbia are exempt from the closure.
Krebs says recent closures for similar reasons in western Alberta have caused more fishers to come to BC, putting greater pressure on streams here. He said there could be further closures in the Kootenays in upcoming weeks.
“We are watching it. The low flows in the small tributaries are the ones we are most concerned with, because they don’t have the resilience. We are not out of the woods with this closure.”
Harvey Andrusak, a longtime Kootenay resident, retired fisheries biologist and former director of fisheries for the province, says the necessity of the closure is “a reflection of how precious and important the fishery is.”
“The fish are the first ones to tell you there is a problem,” he says. “They are a keystone species.”
He says anglers will recognize the necessity of the closure.
“This has never happened before, not in my lifetime,” he says. “Low flows, high temperatures — Kokanee Creek is the lowest I have ever seen it, and the kokanee spawners coming into the stream shortly could have some unusual mortality.”
Andrew Wilson, president of the BC Freshwater Fishery Society, says warm water increases the stress placed on fish by catch-and-release, the method used for the majority of freshwater fishing in BC.
“They can’t handle the stress of the experience. With warm water you need to eliminate incidental harm. By closing the fishery you prevent mortality.
“This is the first time I can recall we have had to shut down so many streams,” he says. “Every year there are a few — the Kettle, the Horsefly — but a region-wide closure is unprecedented.”
Wilson says based on 2010 data, the direct and indirect economic impact of the inland fishery in BC was $957 million, although he points out this includes lake fishing as well, which is not included in the current closure. He says the 2010 data represents 409,000 angling days by BC residents.