The chinook fishery is facing onerous restrictions this season, but it is not actually closed in area waters, say local guides, despite what many think.
This was one of the most recurrent themes from a meeting at the Discovery Inn in Campbell River Tuesday night.
Red Deer-Lacombe Conservative MP Blaine Calkins, who sits on the federal Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, came here to hold a town meeting with stakeholders in the sportsfishing community and others about the situation facing the fishery. It was the last of three meetings, with other stops in Port Alberni and French Creek near Parksville. He was introduced by the riding’s Conservative candidate Shelley Downey.
Calkins said he had been hunting and fishing all his life, and he wanted to get ideas to bring back to the committee on how the situation is affecting the sportsfishing community.
“I know hunters and anglers are the best conservationists,” he said.
One prominent example of the effect has been the cancellation of the popular salmon derby in Campbell River this year because of the new restrictions.
The common sentiment in the room from Calkins and many on hand was that the recent restrictions from the federal government have more to do with politics than sound fisheries management. Some suggested the government was appeasing environmentalists or the fisheries were being used in the dispute over pipelines.
Several professional guides spoke up throughout the evening to express anger and confusion over the decision from Ottawa and how late it was announced, which gave them little time to react.
“I’ve lost thousands of dollars worth of work,” said Steve Babcock, owner and operator of Tall Tale Charters. He expressed frustration over misconceptions that the fishery is “closed” this season.
Over the question of chinook stocks as the southern residents orcas’ food supply, those that spoke dismissed the idea orcas were not getting enough to eat and chinook stocks were dwindling. They put the blame on media sensationalism. At one point, Calkins asked the members of the fishing community what their sense was for the chinook. The common response was that there are plenty.
“The fishing is better now, or as good, as it was 30 years ago,” Babcock told Calkins.
Meeting-goers added that if any orcas are sick, it might have more to do with pollution from cities like Victoria pumping sewage into the ocean or the pollution from the Fraser River in the Lower Mainland.
Calkins said his goal, especially if his party forms the government following this fall’s federal election, is to produce more fish for everyone. This could be helped, he said, by putting money into hatcheries on Vancouver Island now sitting idle.
“I’m advocate for hatcheries,” he said.
Another prominent issue was the growth of the seal and sea lion populations and their effect on fish stocks. Calkins noted the East Coast fishery and how over the years, cod stocks have not come back, yet the region has been overrun with seals. One suggestion was to work with First Nations communities to explore the idea of a targeted harvest of the marine mammals, though Calkins conceded it would be a difficult move politically, even down to using the right terminology.
People in the room also questioned the state of science within Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Calkins differentiated between the Atlantic fishery, which focuses exclusively on the commercial industry, and the Pacific, which was more mixed between sports and commercial. He was wanted to gauge whether there is support for having the Pacific fishery administered by DFO from the West Coast rather than in Ottawa.
“It might make a little bit of sense,” responded Ray Woodhead, owner and operator of Famous Ray’s Fishing Charters.
Lucas Schuller, constituency assistant for local NDP MP Rachel Blaney, was also in attendance and said Blaney was working on the issue of DFO staffing in the region. He noted a recent situation in Powell River where a judge while sentencing a crab poacher criticized the DFO for not enforcing the situation more quickly.
In an email later to the Mirror, Schuller added that Blaney has put together a summary report to Minister Jonathan Wilkinson highlighting the same points as those made at the meeting, such as the problematic timing of the announcement and the lack of confidence in the science behind the decisions, as well as recommendations for immediately releasing the Salmon Innovation and Restoration Fund money and purchasing equipment for marking all hatchery fish for a potential mark-selective fishery.