Fish ban policy termed divisive for local anglers

Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin and NDP environment critic Rob Fleming talk fish

The new regulation banning and restricting the retention of trout and char caught in Skeena region rivers and streams is an example of the wrong way to make policy, and has ended up dividing a community that used to be united.

Those are the words of incumbent Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin, who spoke to the issue along with  NDP environment critic Rob Fleming who visited the area April 5.

The two met with angling stakeholders in an attempt to understand the divisive regulation, which came into affect April 1 and allows for the retention of one rainbow trout during the summer and early fall months, and no retention of Dolly Varden or Bull Trout year-round.

“You have people who, for the longest time, have been on the same page always advocating for the protection of fish,” said Austin. “And [the community is] completely split – some basically saying this a good thing, others going it’s only anecdotal evidence, you don’t even have the proof.”

Not only is this split troublesome, but a lack of hard scientific data puts the government’s decisions in question, he said.

“It’s no way to be making fisheries policy, if you don’t have science and data,” he said. “[Government] needs to figure out a way to be able to do that science.”

One way to do that would be to use money from fishing licence sales to pay for fisheries bodies and research, he said, noting that is what was originally supposed to happen when the province shifted to the freshwater fisheries society model in 2003/2004.

Instead it’s been going into general revenue, he said.

But a lot of people believe the freshwater fisheries societies model – an arms-length, independent, financed by government through license sales – works, added Fleming.

“The discussion we’re having is whether that could be expanded,” he said, noting the program should also be reviewed periodically to ensure it is working properly.

Some angling groups have questioned the validity of the process as of late, citing the fact that the BC Wildlife Federation and local rod and gun chapters have not been at the table during recent angling advisory committee meetings where proposals are debated and put forward. The province has said while it would prefer them to be at the table, the groups receive invitations to meetings and related correspondence, and other advisory groups, First Nations, and the public are consulted before regulations are implemented.

“Sometimes there are tough measures that need to be imposed when a resource is in trouble,” said Fleming, noting restrictions on herring that have been implemented in his riding of Victoria – Swan Lake ­­­– where he is running for re-election.

“But that was done with significant science and everybody getting to look at the numbers,” he said. “I’ve seen and heard nothing so far that suggests that was the way it was done in this region.”

The provincial government says that the regulation change keeps with the conservation-first approach to angling, that it is working to assess areas where risks are low enough to restore harvest opportunities, and that other jurisdictions of western North America have similar catch bans in place.