Weekly Fishing Report for North Canterbury 15 April 2021

  • North Canterbury
  • 15/04/2021
  • Richie Cosgrove

Weekly Fishing Report for North Canterbury 15 April 2021

The traditional fishing season is all but finished now and with rain forecast for much of the region Friday night, rivers are likely to become dis-coloured for a few days.

The best fishing is likely to be in the high-country lakes where light winds are predicted. The approaching winter season offers a special opportunity for anglers keen to brave the elements on our open high-country lakes.

Winter fishing is often overlooked by anglers, but this is a great time to head into the high country to fish, with the snow-capped Alps in the background, calmer weather and the low number of anglers about at this time of year, there can be some very enjoyable days out, but make sure you dress warm! 

Salmon spawning surveys are underway and angler salmon harvest phone surveys are about to begin, however, the general consensus among anglers is that we have had yet another poor season.

Staff carried out the first salmon spawning count in the headwaters of the Rakaia River last week and were disappointed with the numbers observed, with only 250 salmon counted.

The Rakaia itself was partly dis-coloured and any salmon waiting below their spawning streams were not visible, however, given the condition of many of the salmon seen spawning in each of the streams, indications are that we are nearing the peak of the run, which appears to be a week or so earlier than usual this year.

Further counts will be carried out over the next few weeks.

Most anglers have packed their fishing gear away until next season (many of whom are eagerly awaiting the opening of the game bird season on Saturday 1st May), however, for those keen anglers that cannot wait until next season, there are a number of rivers open all year in the region.

Please check your regulation booklet or the North Canterbury Fish & Game website for regulations on these waters as there have been a number of changes over the last year https://fishandgame.org.nz//assets/DMS/Fishing/Follow-the-Fish/Regional-Fishing-Bulletins/Weekly-Fishing-Report-for-North-Canterbury-15-April-2021/FG-Fishing-Regs-SI-20-21-.pdf  

While we are not entirely sure what all the factors are that determine the size of the run each year, all the east coast salmon rivers show similar trends in returns, indicating variables at sea are the main driving force in survival. 

Fish & Game (F&G) often gets complaints from anglers blaming commercial trawlers for catching all the salmon.

In the 1980s this was a significant factor, with large numbers of salmon caught at sea as by-catch on large commercial trawlers targeting red cod and barracouta.

This resulted in conflict with amateur anglers and in 1988 the government responded by closing the Salmon Conservation Area (SCA, the main area off Banks Peninsula where salmon congregate before returning to East Coast rivers to spawn) to large commercial trawlers from early December to mid-February. 

In 1991 the “Salmon at Sea Agreement”, an agreement between the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), F&G and the commercial sector was reached, which has taken the profit out of specifically targeting salmon, with 80% of the money from the sale of salmon caught at sea taken as a levy by MPI and paid to F&G.

The result of this is that commercial operators now regard salmon as an unwanted by-catch.

The number of salmon caught by trawlers has now become insignificant and is only a minor concern for both North Canterbury & Central South Island F&G Councils. 

Trawlers are now also required to GPS plot each trawl they make, with records supplied to MPI and many of the boats are now required to have monitoring cameras on board.

In years when salmon are more abundant, trawlers do catch greater numbers, however, in both good and bad years, this catch is now reported to us and is considered to be a very small proportion of the total salmon run on the East Coast.

Contrary to popular belief, boats seen trawling past river mouths rarely catch salmon, as they are trawling too slowly, and are targeting other species such as elephant fish and flatfish.

It is only the larger boats trawling at greater speeds that have a real chance of catching salmon and even then, usually only in specific areas at certain times of the year.

People often also assume that foreign trawlers are coming in at night and catching the salmon.

There were reports of this occurring many years ago, but modern technology now allows accurate monitoring of who is fishing in the New Zealand economic fishing zone. 

F&G often receives anecdotal reports that large quantities of wild salmon have been caught off the Canterbury coast by commercial trawlers.

In the 2018/19 season, there were a few tonnes of salmon landed by the commercial sector, however, investigations showed a large number of salmon had escaped from a commercial salmon farm in Akaroa Harbour that season and these were the salmon being landed. 

There are only a limited number of boats allowed to fish for salmon in the SCA, where there is a maximum of 5,000kg by-catch permitted each year amongst the parties who originally signed the Salmon at Sea Agreement.

Since the 90’s there has been a continued decrease in the number of vessels operating in the SCA. 32 vessels historically reported salmon catch, however, in the last few years only six vessels have. 

Reports from the commercial fishing operators show that the last few seasons have been very poor seasons for Red Cod, Barracuda and Blue Warehou, the three main quota species which tend to have similar abundance patterns as salmon, with operators pointing to ocean temperatures as a strong indicator, which has been 2 – 3 degrees warmer than usual. 

Good luck if you are heading out over the last weekend of the season.

Steve Terry, North Canterbury Fish & Game Officer.


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