Changes to the family fishing program at McGuire Lake are designed to protect the painted turtles that share the habitat.
As well as providing basking areas, extending the dock farther from shore and posting signs with regulations and educational material, a monitor will be hired to keep an eye on the program.
Steve Maricle, small lakes fishery biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, says several steps have been taken to prevent painted turtles from being hooked.
Last year’s program, the first family fishing program in McGuire Lake, ended in controversy with charges that many of the resident painted turtles had been hooked.
Maricle, who oversees some 20 to 30 popular fishing lakes in the province – including White Lake, says he has never heard of the turtles being hooked before.
“It was close to the end of the year that we heard the complaints, and we never got a clear idea about the number of hookings or severity,” Maricle says. “We agreed we needed to take a closer look to address the issue and we wanted to have a clear understanding if mitigative efforts would eliminate turtle hookings.”
Maricle met with the other local Family Fishing partners, including the City of Salmon Arm, Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and local Fish and Game clubs, to discuss the issue and find solutions.
To that end, the city agreed to post signs listing fishing regulations and educational information on the ecology of the painted turtle.
Added to last year’s rule that only barbless hooks be used is a ban on using bait to make sure the omnivorous turtles are not attracted to the hooks.
Maricle says the city talked about setting out basking platforms near the inlet.
“I think it’s an important part of their ecology, especially when the water is cold,” he says. “It’s nice to get out of the cold water and get the sun. They’re cold-blooded so digestion is entirely dependent on temperature.”
Not only will the dock be extended farther away from the shoreline, an area turtles prefer, the shore end of the dock will be marked as a no-fishing area.
“The turtles tend to gravitate to the shoreline especially when there’s floating stuff,” Maricle says, noting officials had no data to show how many turtles were harmed last year. “We don’t know how many were hooked or what the mortality was.”
What they do know is that tests taken in February revealed good levels of oxygen and that trout survived the winter.
Between the ministry and the city, $6,000 has been secured to hire a monitor who will sit at the dock and watch the fishery.
The monitor will be on-site four hours per day, three days per week, as early as the end of next week.
“We will isolate the times when most people are fishing and try to focus the monitor at that time,” he says. “The monitor will also likely question kids about what they’re catching and whether they’re having turtle encounters.”
A camera will also be installed to take snap shots of the area, with the sole purpose of seeing how popular the program is and helping officials determine the most appropriate times for a monitor to be on the job.
“The camera will be focused on the dock but will be far enough away that people will not have their privacy compromised,” says Maricle, noting that along with complaints from some environmentalists, he received several emails from parents encouraging him to continue the program.
“This is what tugged at my heartstrings – I don’t generate money from licences or something, I like to see kids going outside and getting into fishing,” he says. “
“But it’s a real issue and if we still see too many turtle encounters, we would shut it down.”
Maricle says if the trout don’t make it through the summer, he would also call for an end to the program.
But he says he remains confident that the changes being made to the program will solve the issue of turtle hookings – particularly if participants get the message and fish by the rules.