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Salmon fishing information

General reminders

Know before you go:

  • Always check the latest closures and restrictions for your area. In many areas of British Columbia, fishing is not allowed or is restricted
  • Identify your catch using three characteristics
  • Marked coho and chinook: if your coho or chinook salmon is a hatchery fish, it will have a healed scar in place of the adipose fin. Remove the head and submit it to a Salmon Sport Head Recovery Depot
  • You must release incidental catch alive to the place where you caught it, in a way that causes the least harm to the fish
  • It is illegal to wilfully foul hook a salmon. If you accidentally foul hook a salmon in the ocean, you can keep it. If you foul hook a salmon, wilfully or accidentally, in any lake or stream, including the tidal parts of coastal streams, you must release it immediately
  • You must immediately record in ink on your licence all chinook you keep
  • The length of a salmon is measured from tip of nose to fork in tail
    The length of a salmon is measured from tip of nose to fork in tail.
Fishing gear

Gear restrictions

  • Only barbless hooks may be used for all salmon and sea-run trout fishing.
    • Treble barbless hooks are acceptable in most areas; except in tidal areas of coastal rivers and in areas where special management measures are in place. Check the regulations for the area you are fishing before you go
    • Partially crimped barbs are not allowed; the barb must be crimped flat against the shaft
  • In tidal waters, there’s no limit to the number of fishing rods you can use. In rivers and streams, including the tidal waters of the Fraser River, there’s a limit of one rod per angler
  • It is illegal to angle with more than one fishing line in any lake, stream or river. The only exception is if you are alone in a boat on a lake, in which case you can have two lines
  • It is illegal to angle with a fishing line that has more than one hook, artificial lure or artificial fly attached except:
    • in the tidal waters of the Fraser River, where you can attach two hooks, artificial lures or artificial flies to a bar rig
    • in tidal waters, where you can attach any number of hooks to a fishing line if using the hooks in combination to hold a single piece of bait and if they’re not arranged so as to catch more than one fish. This does not apply in areas restricted to the use of only one single barbless hook
  • It is illegal to fish with a fixed weight (sinker) greater than 1 kg except on a downrigger line, in which case the fishing line must be attached to the downrigger by a release clip
  • When an area is restricted to fly fishing only, you may not attach a weight or float to the line
  • It is illegal to angle or sportfish with nets, including dip nets, minnow nets, gillnets or cast nets
  • Be aware of hook and line, downrigger and trap gear entanglement risks in the vicinity of the UVIC Venus project in Pat Bay, Saanich Inlet. For more information, visit:
Catch and release tips

Practice safe and responsible release techniques to ensure salmon survival.


  • Use only barbless hooks when fishing for salmon (mandatory)
  • Use large lures or artificial baits to reduce incidental catch
  • Bring fish in as quickly as possible
  • Use a soft knotless mesh net to minimize scale loss
  • Support the fish when lifting by placing one hand around the base of its tail and the other under its belly


  • Touch or handle a fish by its gills
  • Lift a fish by its tail

Tips for release:

  • Handle fish securely, immobilizing while removing the hook, and release to the water quickly
  • Smaller salmon (under 30 cm): unhook it at the water surface to minimize handling
  • Larger salmon (over 30 cm): Handle securely, bring onboard, remove the hook quickly and release
  • Use needle-nose pliers or a surgical hemostat to remove hooks
  • If the fish is hooked deep inside the mouth, cut the line as close to the hook as possible and leave it in. The hook will erode in time
  • Release the salmon at a 45° angle with the head pointing down and just above the waterline
  • If the fish is exhausted, revive it in the water by keeping a grip on its tail; move it back and forth slowly to increase water flow over the gills; wait until it is strong enough to swim out of your hands
Packaging and transporting

Before packaging your fish, always ensure the species, number, size, and weight of the fish can be readily determined.

When packaging your salmon catch, if a maximum size limit applies, the head and tail must remain attached until you prepare and consume your catch, arrive at your ordinary residence, or deliver your catch to a registered processing facility.

The head of your salmon can be removed only if the length with the head off is equal to or greater than the minimum legal size of that species for the waters in which it was caught. Leave the tail attached so species can be determined. For example, if a Chinook salmon is caught where the minimum size limit is 62 cm and it is filleted and packaged for transport, one of the fillets must have the tail attached and be at least 62 cm long. If necessary the fillet can be cut into two pieces; the tail must remain attached to one of the pieces. The fillets should be placed side by side in one bag making it obvious that they represent one fish, and the bag must be clearly labelled with:

  1. the number and species of salmon - e.g., "one Chinook"
  2. the number of fillets - "two fillets"
  3. the number of pieces - "four pieces"and
  4. the angler's name and fishing licence number

Missing fin? Keep the head.

The exception to the above requirements is if your coho or chinook salmon is a hatchery fish with a healed scar in place of the adipose fin. Remove heads from hatchery coho and chinook and submit them to a Salmon Head Recovery Depot to provide valuable recreational catch monitoring information to DFO. Anglers are required to ensure that proof of the healed scar remains clearly distinguishable after packaging by leaving the portion of the fish that contains the scar on the fillet. The healed scar will identify the fish for enforcement officers as a hatchery fish.

When steaking a salmon in preparation for transport do not cut all the way through the fish. Leave the steaks connected by a piece of skin and place waxed paper or plastic film between each steak. Similarly, the tail must remain attached to the body of the fish by a piece of skin. The fish can then be wrapped as a whole fish and later steaks can be removed as required without thawing.

When packaging salmon for guests, lodges and charter operations are to clearly provide the following information on the outside of the transport box.

  • the name of angler and fishing licence number; only one name per container
  • the number of fish by species and number of packages. For example, the label on the outside of the cooler should state, in the case of two packaged Chinook or two packaged halibut: "2 Chinook - 2 packages", or "2 halibut - 8 packages"

When individuals are transporting or shipping fish they must package their fish separately and only have one name per package. However, they may share a container. It is recommended that the contents (number of fish, species, and number of packages) be listed on the outside of the container to facilitate inspection.

It is recommended that you store and transport your catch in containers and packages intended for food.

Salmon Head Recovery

Salmon Head Recovery

Missing fin? Keep the head!

SHRP logo

If you catch a "marked" fish - one with a healed scar in place of the adipose fin (coho or chinook), remove the head and submit it to a Salmon Head Recovery Depot, with a completed sport head label (available at the Depot). Once the head is dissected you will receive information about your catch.

Contact the Salmon Head Recovery Program for more information.

Toll free number:

Why participate in salmon head recovery?

By participating in the Salmon Head Recovery Program, you will be contributing necessary information to allow for continued sport fishing opportunities.

In some cases, certain hatchery stocks are used to indicate the health of other stocks in the area. Tag recoveries not only help to indicate that stocks are healthy, but also that stocks of concern could be improving.

In addition to marking hatchery salmon, a very small number of wild coho and chinook (less then 5%) are also tagged and adipose clipped to help biologists monitor habitat enhancement projects associated with wild salmon stocks.

It is just as important to turn in heads from terminal or freshwater sites as it is from marine areas. Even though anglers fishing close to hatcheries can be fairly certain of the origin of their catch, data will not be recorded unless the heads from fin-clipped recoveries are turned in. Without the data, the health of the stock and the value of the resource to anglers could be underestimated.

Coded wire tag facts

  • A coded-wire tag is a 1mm piece of wire that is laser etched with a unique number. Tags are injected into the nose cartilage of juvenile salmon prior to ocean migration
  • Annually, Canada and the United States tag over 50 million juvenile salmon. Fisheries and Oceans Canada applies about 5.5 million tags, using about 5.5 kilometres of wire
  • Coded-wire tags allow Canada to fulfill obligations for International Pacific Salmon Treaty initiatives and provide valuable information, including:
    • abundance, distribution and survival
    • trends for planning next year’s fishing season
    • run timing in salt and freshwater areas

Related links

Tagging programs

Salmon tags

We use tagging programs in BC to study the migration and growth of salmon. This involves attaching numbered tags to fish, usually located near the dorsal fin.

The two kinds of external tags you might encounter are:

  • Floy tags: brightly coloured, look like a piece of string about five inches long
  • Peterson tags: Small round plastic disks.

Report: If you discover an external tag on your catch, report the number along with information on where the fish was caught to your nearest DFO office, or mail it to: Doug Herriott, Pacific Biological Station, 3190 Hammond Bay Road, Nanaimo, B.C. V9T 6N7.

Should you find a PIT tag, turn it into your local Fisheries and Oceans office and include details of where and when the fish containing the tag was caught.

Atlantic Salmon Watch Program

What is the Atlantic Salmon Watch Program?

The Atlantic Salmon Watch Program (ASWP) is a research program operated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The purpose of the program is to study the abundance, distribution and biology of Atlantic salmon in British Columbia and its adjacent waters. The ASWP monitors reports from commercial and sport catches and observations of Atlantic salmon throughout British Columbia. The program relies on recreational and commercial fishers, fish processors, government and independent field staff and hatchery workers to report observations of Atlantic salmon.

How do you distinguish Atlantic salmon from Pacific salmon?

Click thumbnail to enlarge image.

What should I do if I catch an Atlantic salmon?

Keep the fish and report the capture by calling the ASWP toll-free reporting line at 1-800-811-6010. You will be asked where and when you caught the fish and if you wish to donate the fish or part of it for research purposes. Donation is not mandatory but it does provide valuable samples for our scientific study. For whole fish donation, the entire fish, including entrails, should be frozen or kept on ice. Alternatively, the head and a small portion of the back including scales can be preserved. ASWP staff will arrange for transport of the sample.

Report all captures of Atlantic salmon to: 1-800-811-6010 (toll-free).

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