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Skeena River anglers upset about requested fishing closure

A notice circulated Friday asking anglers to avoid an area so Kitsumkalum could finish food fishing
Jackie Lieuwen photo Jackson Leffers, John Leffers, Kelly Leffers and Austin Campbell pause by their boats after fishing the Skeena last Friday. A lot of local anglers were upset after learning of a requested four-day fishing closure near Fisherman’s Memorial Park.

A number of Skeena River anglers are ticked off after a notice was circulated Friday by the Kitsumkalum First Nation asking sport fishers to avoid the pool of the river near Fishermen’s Memorial Park for four days.

The notice says the band is harvesting chinook for their food, doing a beach seine and setting gillnets to catch chinook from Sunday, July 30, to Wednesday, Aug. 2.

Recreational anglers should avoid the area between the Hogline and Krout Bar on the Skeena during those days, the notice says.

The aim is “to harvest chinook salmon to provide community members with food,” reads the notice, providing a map of the area they’ll be fishing.

The map highlights a section of the river starting at the corner just east of the boat launch and circling west, taking in the boat launch and ‘cottonwoods pool’ and ending south of the pool where the Skeena branches off again.

(See map in notice attached below.)

The notice is being understood as a request, since no closure has been posted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (or Department of Fisheries and Oceans known as DFO).

The Sport Fishing Advisory Board, an estimated 15 locals who try to consult with local anglers and advise DFO, agreed it was reasonable to ask recreational anglers to avoid that section of the river for those four days.

However, a number of local anglers disagree. A handful of guys from several different groups took time to talk to The Terrace Standard as they pulled in their boats in at Fisherman’s Park on Friday.

One angler questioned why the band chose to do their fishing now, during the short window that is open to sport fishers, instead of waiting a few days until recreational fishing closes.

Sport fishers just got on the river July 15, because recreational fishing was closed due to low sockeye returns, and their chance to fish ends Aug. 7 in the section of the river between the Lakelse mouth and Skeena bridge. Other areas of the river will be open until Aug. 15.

Several anglers said the band is able to fish anytime, and it’s not fair for them to cut off the already limited window sport fishers have available.

It’s also the peak of the chinook run right now, so it’s the best time to hook a few salmon, they said.

Kitsumkalum chief Don Roberts issued a release late last Friday to explain the band’s request.

He said that with the low sockeye returns and subsequent sockeye closure, Kitsumkalum families are relying on chinook.

But chinook catch rates have been down at the Kitsumkalum fisheries, Roberts said, adding that they want to harvest chinook at the mouth of the Kitsumkalum River to catch enough for the band.

“Kitsumkalum fishers need access to the traditional fishing area near the mouth of the Kitsumkalum River to harvest chinook for food, social and ceremonial needs,” said Roberts.

“This area must be closed for recreational fishing from July 30 to August 2 so Kitsumkalum members can harvest chinook efficiently using beach seine and large mesh gillnet techniques.”

Roberts noted that there are other areas of the river open to recreational fishers and they are free to travel through the area if needed.

But some anglers say it’s not just ‘fairness’ that has them upset. They feel a net seine (sweeping the area with nets) could be detrimental to the already struggling salmon returns.

Fishing closures and restrictions are in place to try preserve sockeye and chinook, and the latest sockeye count from the Skeena Tyee Test Fishery is just under 358,700.

The chinook count at Tyee so far is also the lowest since 2011, with the cumulative index (a number based on a complex formula comparing to prior years) at 51.26. That’s compared to 66.43 last year and 95.73 in 2013. (Note: the chinook run is not complete yet, and chinook counts at the Tyee fishery do not give an accurate picture of the run, because chinook are not the focus at the fishery.)

However, some local angers fear for the future of chinook, which spawn in this section of the Skeena or pool here before heading farther up the Kitsumkalum River to spawn.

One local guide said running nets through there now could decimate the run for the next decade.

“It’s already been a tough run… and most of the Kalum fish are sitting out in front of the confluence,” he said. “All the Kalum fish that spawn in the Kalum river stay out in the Skeena where the Skeena and the Kalum meet…

“If you run nets through the system right now, you’re going to wipe out the entire Kalum run,” he said. “They will never get out to spawn… and if they don’t spawn then there’s no more in the future.”

Sport fishermen are hooking chinook too, the guide acknowledged, but they catch a lot less than a gillnet, he said.

Exact numbers of salmon caught in a gillnet, and how many fish the band plans to catch, is, however, unknown.

Urs Thomas, chair of the North Coast Sport Fishing Advisory Board, said they supported the Kitsumkalum request.

Thomas says its hard to measure the impact of a beach seine compared to recreational fishing, but their hope in supporting this requested closure is to work together.

“We try to collaborate and work together to make something like this as smooth as possible,” he said, adding that having a beach seine with recreational anglers in between just doesn’t work.

“We don’t want to have tension out on the river,” he said.

Thomas acknowledged that it is understandable for anglers to be upset about the timing, and it’s tough to know how to balance everyone’s concerns.

“To get along with each other is important,” he said, adding that collaboration could prevent future closures such as the big Skeena closure earlier this year.

“It’s a much bigger pain to have the whole river closed,” he said. “If we can work together and maybe come up with solution like this, maybe we can prevent future river closures.

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