Despite an array of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency responsible for stocking B.C.’s lakes with freshwater fish successfully completed its mission for 2020, ensuring a smooth transition for the recreational fishery going into the new year.
The importance of the achievement by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC (FFSBC) is heightened this year with a 20 per cent spike in new licence holders expecting the most from this outdoor pursuit.
“It was a huge feat, because this past year was unique given the pandemic,” Andrew Wilson, president of FFSBC said. “We had to develop new protocols, new procedures to ensure we were compliant with the the provincial health officer and WorkSafe BC, and that meant a bit of a rethink on how we were able to culture the fish and deliver them. But at the end of the day we were able to do that. We never got to the place where we thought it wasn’t going to happen.”
FFSBC is solely responsible for stocking B.C.’s freshwater lakes on behalf of the provincial government.
Throughout 2020 the society stocked 5.63 million rainbow trout, coastal cutthroat trout, eastern brook trout and kokanee into 662 lakes across the province.
More than 311,000 steelhead smolts were also raised and released into six rivers in the Lower Mainland, and four rivers on Vancouver Island. The society’s Vancouver Island Trout Hatchery also released 15,306 anadromous coastal cutthroat trout into the Oyster and Quinsam rivers on Vancouver Island.
Wilson said once new procedures were in place, operations moved smoothly. He credits the participation of BC Parks, BC Rec Sites and Trails, and BC Hydro to develop workable plans for accessing the bodies of water.
Without the completion of the program, Wilson said anglers would have experienced immediate impacts.
“At the beginning of the year there were so many unknowns … particularly with the government having to walk that fine line of trying to look after British Columbians while also encouraging them to get outside to stay healthy.”
The annual provincial recreational stocking program is funded through the sale of B.C. freshwater fishing licences. In the early stages of the pandemic the society was concerned about deep financial losses in 2020, as many in the tourism sector experienced, but the government’s encouragement for residents get outdoors resulted in a 20 per cent uptake in new freshwater fishing licences sales to B.C. residents. The 16-20-year old category saw the largest gains of 64 per cent.
“That 20 per cent increase in resident anglers pretty much offset the 94 per cent decrease in international anglers,” Wilson said. “It is big news. People are getting out and engaging with their backyard, getting out on the water in a really healthy pursuit.”