Fish, Pacific Northwest
Fish are aquatic vertebrates, with a skin covered in scales, 2 sets of paired fins, some unpaired fins, and a set of gills. Most are cold-blooded animals with a torpedo-shaped body, adapted for efficient movement in the water.
Although the Tuna, swordfish and a few shark species are warm-blooded. Some fish like the rays are flat-bodied fish that are not streamlined. These fascinating creatures move through the water like giant birds, undulating their wing-like, broad pectoral fins.
Fish species require different habitats in order to carry out their natural life functions. Environments needed will vary with their life stages: feeding, resting, hiding from predators, and spawning.
You never know what you might see as you wade in our waters along the shores, you might see a big Dungeness crab going about its business or perhaps the discarded shell of one. People often mistake empty Dungeness shells strewn along beaches for dead crabs. Crabs shed and grow new shells regularly as part of their growth process. The old shell splits at the back and along the sides so the crab can back out. The shell the crab leaves behind is an almost intact replica of the crab.
Dungeness crabs are typically light brown in color. These creatures have one pair of claws and four pairs of walking legs. Their claws are serrated and so are the edges of their shells from the eyes down to the middle of the body.
Crabs are measured by the width of their shell. A male Dungeness crab can grow to a width of about 230 mm and can weigh up to about 2 kg. The Dungeness crab’s slender, light-colored claw tips distinguish it from other crab species, as does its relatively large size.
As a predator, the Dungeness crab eats clams, mussels, crabs and other crustaceans as well as some small fish. Crabs pursue prey more actively at night, tending to bury themselves in the sand during the day. When moving along the sea bottom, these crabs find and capture prey by probing the sand with their legs or claws.
Dungeness crabs can move in any direction-quickly enough to give a scuba diver a run for his money!
The Dungeness crab is distributed along the west coast from Mexico to Alaska. It inhabits waters up to depths of about 180 meters. Although these crabs can sometimes be spotted on mud and gravel, they prefer sandy bottoms and shallow cool waters around eelgrass.
Predators of the Dungeness crab include octopus, halibut, dogfish, sculpin, birds and other crabs. Crabs are most vulnerable immediately after they’ve molted when their bodies are soft and lack the protection of a hard shell.
When I was a young man, my friend Jimmy and I were hand logging up in Blunden Harbor across from Port Hardy. We had no way of freezing meat, so we were on a diet of canned meats for the 3 to 4 months we would be in there. So we would supplement this diet with the odd Canada goose or mallard duck along with fish and we also set out crab and prawn traps.
One day, a crab trap I was pulling up seemed to be very heavy and I assumed that a large starfish had attached itself to the outside of the trap. But as I got the trap up to where I could see it in the water, I realized that it was a very large and I mean giant Dungeness crab. This crab was on the outside of the trap and hanging on. I started to pull as fast as I could and just as I was getting the trap into the skiff, the crab fell off, but it landed in the boat. This was the biggest crab I had ever seen, even to this day.
Tourism and its recreational use of the various fishes bring in much-needed revenue to BC coastal communities. The pacific northwest has many areas that are great for sport fishing of salmon, shellfish, crabs and prawns and other fish species, you will not be disappointed.
Salmon fishing is awesome in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. The recreation harvesting of crabs also great here. I love going out to get your own crabs and prawns. I used to go out at low night tides towing a small skiff behind me, clam rake in hand with a flashlight. When you see a crab scurrying away, you lightly step on it, slid the clam rake under your foot to hold the crab to your foot. You swing your foot over your skiff, holding the crab to it with the rake, then you let the crab fall into the boat. Hand didn’t get wet and the crab did not pinch you. Now they put on wet suits and walk along at low tide with a large net that they use to swoop up crabs.
Digging for clams is another great way to gather seafood, we have many types of clams here on the coast that will give you such wonders on your table. I love chowder and harvesting clams for it is a great way to work up an appetite.
We are so lucky here on the West Coast to have such a variety of amazing shellfish. Although, many of the commercial species we have here were introduced from other parts of the world. But I think that they have had little impact on the native shellfish population and have indeed found a nitch here.
The ocean waters flowing down the coast from northern climates are rich with nutrients and very cold. This makes the prime areas for shellfish production around the central area of Vancouver Island. The cold waters we have here are necessary for fine flavors of our shellfish. The nutrients that are in this water provide plenty of food for rapid growth.
There are many types of freshwater shellfish in the Pacific Northwest, although most are not edible, they are still very fascinating to study. Made a freshwater mussel chowder and found it to be quite tasty. There is something quite awesome about seeing the variety and abundance of shellfish on Vancouver Island.
We have the protected Abalone here, very beautiful creature. Then there are the variety of Barnacles that can be found growing alongside the many types of mussels, love seeing the giant species of both. Many different types of clams can be harvested along the entire coast as well as all the outer islands.
Scallops and oysters are both wonderful and they look so awesome. On the west coast beaches, they are in abundance, they look so incredible. They are tough too, they must be to survive the west coast winter storms. These storms are amazing and to see how unaffected they are shows one just how well they have adapted to live here.
Fishing for both freshwater and saltwater fish is great along the coast and the whole fishery brings in a much-needed source of revenue to isolated communities here. There are many lodges and guides who cater to those who seek out these kinds of adventures. I love to fish the rivers and lakes for trout, we catch and release.
There are many lakes and rivers along the Pacific Northwest coast and they all have fish. Some coastal rivers have steelhead runs that contain fish that can weigh as much as 20 or more kilos. The Cowichan River on Vancouver Island has brown trout that can reach up to 7 kilos.
Most of the rivers and lakes have fish more in the range of 30 to 40 cm in length. So grab your rod, put on your boots and try your luck, the fresh air will do you good.
Most good fishing areas have campsites that are available, some are full campgrounds with fire pits, tables, and boat launches, others can be very rustic. But camping is fun at any of them.
British Columbia contains a diverse and varied fish community. 10,000 years ago, the province was almost completely covered by a layer of ice. As the glaciers retreated, fish that survived through the big freeze we’re able to move into new territories. Some of these early colonizers became isolated from other populations by barriers such as waterfalls. This allowed them to become almost separate species.
There are many types of fish here, some were a saltwater fish that adapted to living in freshwater, arctic grayling, steelhead, and rainbow trout are all freshwater fish that originally lived in the sea.
Why do some fish normally live in freshwater and others live in seawater, the reason is that one or the other environment provides them with opportunities that have traditionally contributed to their survival. An obvious difference between the two habitats is salt concentration. Freshwater fish maintain the physiological mechanisms that permit them to concentrate salts within their bodies in a salt-deficient environment, saltwater fish, on the other hand, excrete excess salts in their environment. Fish that live in both environments retain both mechanisms. Some freshwater fish that come in the form of mussels.
Chinook Salmon, video credit, Eiko Jones
The commercial fishing industry, a key part of the growth & development of the pacific northwest over the last 100 years, maintains its vital role in coastal communities. Commercial harvesting of shellfish, fish, both groundfish & salmon, and herring eggs is of great economic importance to BC. All fisheries on the Pacific coast, though, are in danger and require sustainable management before they too collapse, as the Atlantic fisheries have. Pictured above is the growth cycle of a Coho Salmon.