Sportfishing | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Fishing for sport as well as for food is inseparable from the history of human evolution. Some of the earliest evidence can be seen in rock shelter carvings of fish before 10 000 BC and in 5000-year-old Egyptian drawings of anglers.


Fishing for sport as well as for food is inseparable from the history of human evolution. Some of the earliest evidence can be seen in rock shelter carvings of fish before 10 000 BC and in 5000-year-old Egyptian drawings of anglers. These artefacts suggest that fishing for pleasure developed (as did artistic creation) when time became available for pursuits other than simply the search for food and shelter. In Canada, sportfishing ranks among the most popular and enduring forms of outdoor recreation. The first Europeans brought with them well-established sportfishing interests and traditions as well as laws relating to FISHERIES. These laws, and their ongoing development, have had to be reconciled with the important role species such as the Pacific and Atlantic SALMON, have played in the life and culture of coastal native peoples. Sportfishing stories recounted by native elders inspired youths, who, just like youths the world over, enjoyed emulating their elders' fishing exploits. Likewise, successive waves of European settlers and visiting writers sent back reports about the variety and unlimited abundance of game fish to be found in the new land, thereby laying the foundation for Canada's international image as a sportfishing mecca.

Popularity of Sportfishing

Surveys to determine the size and importance of this use of Canada's fisheries resources began in 1975 when the first federally initiated and co-ordinated survey of sportfishing in Canada was conducted by all provincial, territorial and federal fisheries licensing agencies. Since then, similar surveys have been carried out every 5 years to better understand the role and contribution of the country's sportfisheries.

According to the 2000 survey, there were 3.6 million active anglers in Canada; 2.9 million were resident Canadians and over 774 000 were visiting anglers, primarily from the United States. As measured in days of participation, Canadians fished over 41 million days and visiting anglers over 5.2 million days.

Though their actual catch is only one measure of success, anglers caught over 233 million fish, but kept only about 84.6 million. An estimated 34.6 million TROUT headed the list of fish kept, followed by WALLEYE, PERCH, northern PIKE and BASS. Collectively, there were about 3.6 million Pacific, Atlantic and other salmon retained.

For anglers, however, the sport centres on the fish and the experience of fishing. Traditionally, anglers use lure, bait and fly, but gear and methods vary by species, season, place and preference, ranging from the most primitive gear to boats outfitted with the most modern electronic equipment and conveniences.

Of Canada's 100 or so species sought, many rank the salmon, on both coasts, supreme. Historically, the salmon has been esteemed as the king of gamefish. Rivers such as the MIRAMICHI in New Brunswick and the RESTIGOUCHE, shared by Québec and New Brunswick, are known to fly-fishermen the world over. Canada's 5 species of PACIFIC SALMON are far more numerous, with the coho and chinook (also known as kings, springs and tyee when they weigh over 14 kg), providing the main focus for BC ocean sport fisheries. This is particularly so in traditional "hot spots" like Rivers Inlet, and now even more so in fly-in, no-expense-spared charter operations off the northern shores of Haida Gwaii. Thousands of anglers are drawn to the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in search of wilderness solitude and opportunities to fish for trophy-sized lake trout, northern pike, arctic CHAR and arctic GRAYLING. Elsewhere, northern pike, walleye and lake trout are sought in northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec and Labrador. There are numerous regional differences and preferences, including the growing popularity of ice fishing in Québec and wherever else circumstances permit.

Economic Importance

What anglers are willing to spend and invest is an important measure of the role of sportfishing in the Canadian economy. In 2000 anglers spent $2.5 billion on goods and services directly related to their angling activities. Transportation with food and lodging headed the list of expenses, although the purchase of fishing packages is rising, especially with visiting anglers. Resident anglers spent some $1.57 billion and visiting anglers spent nearly $830 million. Canada leads the world in foreign exchange earnings from sportfishing.

Anglers also invest in durable goods and services such as boats or motors, or mooring privileges. When taken into account that these additional goods and services are not used solely for sportfishing, the total amount anglers spend or invest directly on sportfishing each year might well be twice as large.

Fisheries Management

Responsibility for fisheries protection and management is shared by the federal and provincial governments. Apart from some minor exceptions, tidal fisheries are exclusively under federal jurisdiction. In inland fresh waters, there is an overlap based on court interpretations of provisions of the BRITISH NORTH AMERICAN ACT (1867). All laws for fisheries regulation, as such, are federally enacted. Provinces, however, possess and exercise proprietary rights over fresh waters, largely through setting and collecting licence fees. While there is a mosaic of federal-provincial arrangements for the administration of fisheries laws, there is a further anomaly regarding public access. Two provinces, New Brunswick and Québec, have retained much of their respectively derived laws covering riparian ownership in their fresh waters, and in both provinces the exclusive right to fish can be privately owned. All tidal fisheries are common property and, with a few exceptions, so are freshwater fisheries of the territories and the other 8 provinces.

Management Challenges

With funding cuts affecting them all, it is difficult to properly monitor, let alone attempt to control impacts on, fisheries from long-recognized industrial contamination, eg, ACID RAIN. Continuing encouragement is needed to induce some of Canada's largest waterfront cities to build sewage treatment facilities to end nearby WATER POLLUTION. Without in any way exhausting the list, constant surveillance is required to prevent the introduction of insidious threats such as the sea LAMPREY, which devastated lake trout in the Great Lakes.

Finally, the ruinous effects of commercially depleted and still competitively overfished species like salmon remain to be addressed. This is particularly so because sport fisheries take comparatively far fewer finfish, generate better net returns to the economy and provide a wider base of support for the protection and restoration of all of Canada's fish stocks. From an environmental perspective, the continuing natural abundance of gamefish is recognized as a key measure of the health and quality of the wholly related fisheries habitat.

Advocacy Organizations

Support for the role and welfare of sport fisheries comes from many sources. Organized anglers are Canada's prototypal consumer advocates. Some ATLANTIC SALMON clubs were founded over a century ago, and organized anglers in nationally affiliated provincial and territorial fish and game federations are in the forefront of efforts to protect and enhance sport fisheries. Since the arrival of the first Europeans, Canada has been revered for its fishery resources. This reputation has been fortified by the contributions made to sportfishing literature and lore by individuals such as Roderick HAIG-BROWN, the Izaak Walton (1593-1683) of his era.

Further Reading

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