THINGS are quiet at Terrace and area boat launches since the closure of the Skeena River to recreational fishing. The ban lasts until July 15, 2017. Jackie Lieuwen photo

Fishery closure affects Terrace and area economy

Lack of closure notice by federal officials draws comment

REPORTS are coming in of cancellations and slower than normal economic activity stemming from the complete closure of recreational fishing on the Skeena River announced earlier this month, says the executive director of the Kermodei Tourism Society which operates the local tourist information centre.

“We’re hearing of cancellations, some as far away as Britain and Germany,” said Christine Slanz last week.

“Our students are having people come in who were camping on Ferry Island saying they’re packing up and going to Kitimat,” she said of tourist anglers deciding to fish the Kitimat system which isn’t affected by the closure.

“There’s already an impact on the local economy,” Slanz continued of visits and phone calls from local businesses relating their experiences.

The one-month recreational closure is for coho, pink and chinook/spring salmon although the First Nations fishery for food and ceremonial purposes will continue.

A complete sockeye closure will continue unless there’s indications that returning numbers up the Skeena River have increased.

The closure is meant to safeguard the sockeye stocks.

What bothers people the most, Slanz continued, is the lack of notice from the federal Fisheries and Oceans Canada department because it gave no time for people and businesses to prepare and adapt.

“Even a month so businesses and others could warn clients would have been helpful,” said Slanz.

The tourism society is preparing a letter for local governments and federal officials outlining the concerns of its members.

Still, Slanz said there’s now an emphasis on promoting other recreational and tourism opportunities in the area.

“There’s just so much to do in Terrace and area,” said Slanz, mentioning specifically the Nass Valley and the national Nisga’a museum in Laxgalts’ap (Greenville).

One local business directly affected is Misty River Tackle &Hunting.

Brian Patrick says he’s reduced the store opening to five days a week and he’s cut full time staff to half time and cancelled plans to hire students.

“And I’m thinking of three days a week,” said Patrick who also has hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock he says he won’t be able to sell.

“You see anybody in parking lots of stores and restaurants? Parked at the [boat] launches?” he asked.

Patrick has also been fielding calls from people in Europe who are telling him they have canceled trips, forfeiting deposits on accommodation, guiding and air travel.

Patrick said federal fisheries officials have even asked him to stop sending upset anglers to their Terrace office.

“Excuse me. But don’t they work for us?” said Patrick in response.

Patrick said the closure to all species to protect one, sockeye, makes no sense because federal fisheries officials had no current data.

That’s because the closure was announced even before the annual test fishery at Tyee, a location on the Skeena River, had even started, he said.

“When it did, the numbers of the first several days for sockeye were average,” said Patrick. “After that, I just stopped reading them.”

He said the closure decision by federal fisheries officials follows years of bad decisions.

“Last year they said it was going to be one of the worst,” said Patrick of the sockeye run. “And it was one of the best and it was the same the year before that and the year before that.”

Patrick is also upset an ocean commercial fishery is allowed to continue.

“If you put a 1,000 people on the river here over a day, how much fish would they catch? Maybe 400-500. In a [commercial] boat, thousands,” he said.

Aside from the one-month closure, Patrick’s worried about the longer-term damage to the area’s reputation as an angling destination.