While federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and assorted specialists were scrambling Wednesday to assess the impact of the Big Bar rockslide on Fraser River salmon runs, the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C. posted an open letter to the minister that could be fairly described as damning. The letter, signed by SFI president Robert Alcock, was probably the last thing Wilkinson wanted to read during the landslide emergency, but that was a problem of his own making.
The letter spells this out clearly, reminding Wilkinson of the “unnecessarily restrictive” measures imposed on anglers in the province, the brutal effects they’ve had on the industry and coastal communities, and how reasonable and carefully thought out proposals have been completely ignored by Wilkinson’s department. The letter demands immediate action to try to salvage what’s left of the season.
This has been a memorably bad season for sport fishing in B.C. and stories of anglers selling their boats are commonplace. The source of their profound frustration is not only the catch-and-release rules sprung on them in April but the fact that those rules were based on supposedly low chinook numbers – when in reality this year’s run has been anything but. This is a point Alcock’s letter returns to again and again.
“There are businesses closing, staff laid off, uncertainty and doubt in the marketplace for the future, and all this while returns of chinook to the Fraser River are far in excess of what was predicted,” the letter says. “Add that reports of marine abundance of hatchery chinook in the southern Georgia Strait are described as the best in 20 years… The dramatic increase in abundance is showing up all over the coast, even as far south as California... Yet retention of chinook that are produced to be caught is still not allowed?”
July 15 is a big day for anglers because it means that in the northern Strait of Georgia and other areas the ban on retention will be lifted and a daily limit of one chinook per person will come into effect until Aug. 29, with the annual limit reduced from 30 to 10 chinook per person. But the non-retention rule will continue to apply in Juan de Fuca Strait and southern Strait of Georgia until July 31, and that’s one measure Alcock is calling on Wilkinson to roll back.
It might seem counter-intuitive to relax the rules at a time when the Fraser River chinook run is in apparent jeopardy, and Alcock addresses this in his letter, noting that hatchery stocks are not present in the Fraser above the obstacle, the timing of the ban was to allow stocks to pass into the river, and therefore the slide should have no bearing on the issue.
The arguments are sound, but they have been all along and still one gets the impression that no one is listening.