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Fishing in BC: Fishing Regulations

By Rodney Hsu, Fishing with Rod

To fish in British Columbia, anglers need to know the fishing regulations that apply to the BC rivers, lakes and seas where they are fishing.

Overwhelmed by the amount of fishing regulations that they are required to follow, newcomers to sportfishing in British Columbia are sometimes turned off. In recent years, authorities have recognized this problem and are working with the sportfishing community to simplify the regulations without jeopardizing our fishery resource. Anglers should understand that regulations are designed to ensure the sustainability of our fish stocks and maintain the quality of sportfishing in BC. Without them, there would not be such abundant fish stocks in the ocean, lakes and rivers for us to enjoy.

Before learning more, you need to be aware of how British Columbia's fish stocks are managed. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a federal agency, is responsible for managing saltwater fishery resources in BC. The management of rivers and lakes are managed by BC's Ministry of Environment. There is one exception, pacific salmon, which occupy both salt and freshwater at different life stages, are the responsibility of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. There are three important links that all British Columbia anglers should be aware of:

Fish identification

Knowing how to identify the fish that you catch is important, so you do not mistakenly kill a protected fish species or consume fish species that maybe harmful.

Fish species differ in size, shape, colour, spotting pattern, mouth position, tail shape and fin pattern. Some species look remarkably similar. For example, chinook and coho salmon both have spots along their back; their subtle differences are the gum colour and spotting pattern on their tail. In Southern British Columbia, wild chinook salmon can usually be kept while coho salmon cannot, therefore misidentification can lead to keeping the wrong fish.

Fish identification is a learning process, so don't be discouraged if you make a mistake. If you cannot identify a fish when it is caught, then the best option is to release it with care.

Saltwater fishing regulations

Before fishing in the ocean or estuaries, you first should be aware of the dos and don'ts, as well as permitted recreational fishing gear.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada divides its managed waters into "Areas". Once you decide where you would like to fish, find out which Area it falls in. Know all the regulations that apply to that particular Area and find out whether the location where you intend to fish is closed or not. Sometimes a fishing spot has a seasonal closure or a permanent closure, such as rockfish conservation areas.

Finally, you should know what fish species and how many fish you may keep. The quota differs from one area to another, so be sure to double check regularly. Salmon quotas are usually listed in the Area's regulations, while other finfish quotas can be found in this table.

Freshwater fishing regulations

BC's freshwater fishing regulations are available in a synopsis that can either be viewed online or picked up from your local fishing tackle stores. They are divided into three sections – Provincial regulations, regional regulations and water-specific regulations.

Provincial regulations cover general regulations that you have to follow when fishing at any river or lake in British Columbia. These include allowable fishing methods, quotas, size limits and other definitions.

The Ministry of Environment manages this province's freshwater fisheries by dividing it into eight regions. Regional regulations include daily quotas of fish, fishing boundaries and protected species that you should be aware of.

In the regional regulation sections, you can also find a table of water-specific regulations. Because each river or lake has its distinct fish stocks, sometimes additional management measures such as seasonal closures and gear restrictions are required. Once you decide which river or lake you intend to fish, find it in the table under the region where it is located. If no additional regulations are listed, then you are only required to follow the general regulations listed under the provincial and regional sections.

As mentioned earlier, pacific salmon are managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in both salt and freshwater, so freshwater salmon fishing regulations are listed in this section. The management regions remain the same, so simply click on the region where the river you wish to fish is located and find out its allowable quotas of salmon.