The amazing shrinking fish

Sport fishers will have to release any monstrous trout, pike or grayling they catch in Yukon waters if a proposed change to the territory’s…

Sport fishers will have to release any monstrous trout, pike or grayling they catch in Yukon waters if a proposed change to the territory’s wildlife regulations is approved.

Licensed fishers would have to release lake trout longer than 65 centimetres, northern pike longer than 75 centimetres, and Arctic grayling longer than 40 centimetres under the proposal.

Surprisingly, the proponent makes a living from sport fishers. He’s Bernard Stehelin, co-owner of the outfitting company Wilderness Fishing Yukon.

But his company, which flies its customers to remote lakes north of Whitehorse, is unusual in that it requires customers to only catch and release whoppers.

“It’s the rule,” he said.

He fears that unless more fishers do the same, and throw their biggest catches back, Yukon’s fish stock may be permanently stunted.

He cites studies that show that removing the biggest fish from a population results in future generations dwindling in size.

Size and growth rate appear to be largely heritable traits of fish. Big fish beget more big fish.

Remove the biggest fish and future generations become smaller and grow more slowly.

The proposed change won’t be popular with everyone, Stehelin concedes.

“A lot of guys say, ‘If I can’t keep the fish I’m not interested,’” he said.

But he’s found there are enough catch-and-release customers to make a living.

His customers who do catch a whopper don’t return home empty-handed, either. Stehelin fashions them a Fibreglas replica of their fish.

“It’s actually better than a skin mount. It lasts longer,” he said.

Two other proposed changes would limit the use of all-terrain vehicles on Pilot Mountai north of Takhini Hot Springs, and restrict sheep hunting on the mountain and surrounding Miners Range area.

Trophy rams are being over-hunted at Pilot Mountain, states a proposal submitted by the Laberge Renewable Resources Council.

To allow the herd to recover, the proposal suggests a two-year hunting ban, followed by the introduction of a permit hunt that would allow an annual hunt of three or four sheep of the herd of about 175.

ATVs would be banned from the alpine areas of Pilot Mountain, and only allowed on established trails at lower altitudes.

ATV trails have tripled in number on the mountain since the 1980s, states the proposal, which is also made by the Laberge resources council.

A designated parking space would be built for ATVs where trails reach alpine areas.

The Pilot Mountain sheep herd is particularly vulnerable because it is one of the closest herds to Whitehorse.

Yukon’s rams may only be shot if their horns curl past their eyes — an indication the animal is at least eight years old.

But few mature rams have been spotted in recent years. Hunting is believed to have “greatly increased” in recent decades, largely due to the growing popularity of ATVs.

Yukoners have until December 3 to comment on proposed regulation changes. If approved, the new rules would come into effect in 2009.

For a complete list of proposed regulation changes, contact the fish and wildlife management board or Environment department.

Contact John Thompson at