Barbless hooks regulation officially gone

My advance copy of 2014 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations had me smiling immediately it slid out of the envelope it came in. The cover features a kid holding and grinning at a nice trout and the stimulator fly that did it in, with a perfect kid-size stream and all outdoors in the background.

My advance copy of 2014 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations had me smiling immediately it slid out of the envelope it came in.

The cover features a kid holding and grinning at a nice trout and the stimulator fly that did it in, with a perfect kid-size stream and all outdoors in the background.

Environment- Sustainable Resource Minister Robin Campbell might even have supplied the cover picture himself, because he strongly champions fishing as good for kids and vice versa, altogether an admirable attitude for an ESRD minister to have.

First item in the Guide is always “Message from the Minister;” this, Mr. Campbell’s first, is the third in three years from different. The minister reports on the effect last summer’s flooding in southern Alberta will have on this season’s fishing: “ I am pleased to tell you that our fish populations fared better than expected and, as a result, there are no new restrictions on angling in southern Alberta.”

Still, in my experience, anglers will experience poorer fishing in the badly flooded rivers and streams for the eight years it usually takes a diminished population of wild trout to spawn itself back to what it was before the disaster.

The actual regulations seem a scant few pages shorter this year, probably a modest start of joint initiatives of the Alberta Fish and Game Association and ESRD to shorten and simplify them and return some of the fun to fishing for all of us, particularly beginners.

Excuse the loud cheer, but the mandatory use of barbless hooks regulation is officially gone this year. The Guide’s “Important Changes and Notices” section ignores this good news, probably because ESRD is still embarrassed over the fact that barbless has been accidentally-negligently gone for the last two years, and they had to refund many thousands of dollars in fines from anglers charged for using barbed hooks by officers who didn’t even know the regulation was gone.

Among the reasons mandatory barbless is gone is that studies unanimously show that is does not contribute to the survival of released fish. Yet, the 2014 Guide again contains the note “Hooking Mortality From Bait,” advising that “about 25% of trout caught on natural and scented baits die after release, compare with less than 4% of those caught on flies and lures.”

Why is the use of bait not banned? Doing so would shorten the regulations by about half a dozen pages of convoluted, complex items dealing with bait, its use and abuse. Who would be against the banning of bait if it saves 25 per cent of released fish? Certainly not kids, even though they can learn a lot about fishing and the way the wild world works from starting out with bait.

Could the government fear a senior’s backlash if it banned bait? Certainly that might explain why the former minister, Diana McQueen, declined to include in this year’s regs. the Seniors’ license her staff proposed and the AFGA approved: first, she wanted to know how she could “sell it.”

Because the resource needs to know the total number of anglers and needs the revenue from all adult anglers to provide good fishing for us all, is why: the same reason I have heard seniors expound in support of requiring Indians to have a Sportfishing License. I have also heard the same geezers who rave on about “sense of entitlement” in our politicians, seriously argue that, as seniors, they have earned the right and are thus entitled to fish for free.

“As a precautionary measure,” we are told, the Red Deer River and tributaries upstream of the Dickson Dam will be catch and release again this year, lest anyone sickens and dies from residues of 2012’s Plains Midstream spill of light sour crude into the Red Deer near Sundre. It is probably too much to hope that, when this precautionary measure ends, so too will end the stupidity of permitting the killing and keeping of two trout per day from the Raven and North Raven Rivers, after June 16th, provided that they are over 40 cm. long.

The egregious fisheries error of targeting the biggest and best breeders in a fish population for harvest has become a bad habit with ESRD biologists, and likely has much to do with the alleged pike decline in Lake Newell that now results in the imposition an official zero limit on the species in what has been one of Alberta’s top pike lakes before and since this old kid started fishing it 65 years ago.

The minister signs off his Message: “As an avid angler myself, I hope to see you out there.” Many of us just hope to see him in his position long enough to accomplish some of the initiatives he has in mind, such as the updating of Alberta’s Fish and Wildlife Policy, and the further shortening and simplification of the regulations.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at

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