Reg Rage

Rob Brown gives us his insider take on the Quality Waters Strategy

In last week’s edition of this paper, Graham Genge of the Kermodei Tourism Association worries that the small regulatory changes to steelhead fishing flowing from the Quality Waters Strategy (QWS) process will adversely affect tourism. Mr. Genge’s concern is driven by the concerns like those of Claudia Lee, of the Copper River Motel, who bemoans the fact that she has had a French guest cancel because he can no longer fish some sections of world renowned steelhead rivers on weekends. Genge feels that added costs and barriers are “detrimental to guided and recreational fishing.”

I’m sorry that Ms. Lee has had some long-term guests cancel, but I think she, and Mr. Genge, should be more concerned with the strength of the Canadian dollar, the worsening global depression, the destruction of tourism values by clear cut logging reminiscent of the forest practices of the first half of the last century, and the proposed construction of pipelines through three of our world-class steelhead rivers. Tourism relies on viewscapes. Steelhead tourism relies on wilderness values. Both of those assets will be ruined if our river valleys and coast are given over to the oil industry, as envisaged by our current provincial and federal governments.

Every change to the fishing regulations causes a disproportionate reaction from business and from fishers generally. When a few of us pushed for the release of Skeena steelhead, there was a large outcry. We were told that released steelhead would die. They didn’t. We were told that fishermen would go to Alaska. Maybe a few did, but for the most part they remained. We were told fishing tourists would just stop coming. The fishing pressure in the Bulkley and Kispiox valleys stayed pretty much the same. The number of fishers on the Zymoetz plummeted – but not for long. Two years after the imposition of steelhead release there were more fishers prowling the banks of the Zymoetz than ever but the constituency had changed, most were fly fishers. Today, there are more anglers on the Zymoetz (and all Skeena’s rivers) than ever before.

When the Fisheries Branch implemented their first Quality Water regulations, which included  modest license fee increases, there was another round of hair pulling and teeth gnashing, and the familiar strains of the old refrain that tourists will flee was heard again. The predicted exodus didn’t come to pass because anglers realized that paying the price of a box of beer for a day of world class salmon fishing was the best angling bargain on the planet.

Now, two decades after the initial Quality Waters and Guide Management Act, the Ministry has brought down regulatory adjustments that will give residents more opportunity to fish the upper Zymoetz on weekends and keep non locals off the upper 10 kilometres of the Lakelse River. The regulations also increased the number of guiding days on the hundreds of kilometres of Skeena upstream of Terrace.

I sat on the Western Working Group of the penultimate stage of the QWS representing resident anglers along with Jim Culp, Chris Culp, Brian Kean, and Jason Ouellet. Dustin Kovacvich, Dan Daigle, Randy Dozzi, and Andrew Rushton attended as representatives of the guiding community, and half way through the process a number of business reps, including Mr. Genge’s predecessor, were taken on board.

I’ve gone to a lot of meetings to do with fish and fishing in the last 25 years. The number of the sessions in which I’ve participated is miniscule compared to the number my good friend and well known conservationist, Jim Culp, has attended.

When the QWS sessions were done, I told Jim that they were the most arduous and stressful meetings I’d had the misfortune to attend. He told me that he felt so too. This had nothing to do with the attendees, with whom we continue to get along with,  but more with the structure of the process. There were too few tools in the tool box at the start of the process and as it unfolded some of those were removed without adequate explanation. Taking on new members half the way through, as noted above, didn’t change the direction of the final recommendations and added another level of complexity to the sessions.

Like most consensus driven processes, the QWS ultimately came up with recommendations which pleased none of the participants, including me. My concern was that the recommendations, though a tentative step in the right direction, weren’t restrictive enough, undervalued the resource, and  failed to seize a golden opportunity to promote tourism and enhance conservation. I’ll take this up next week.