Steelhead rules designed to limit foreign, non-guided fishermen

The Ministry of Forests, Mines and Natural Resources is slapping more rules on the Skeena River, which will come into effect April 1, 2012.

Fish are a limited, albeit loved, resource here — and the steelhead is one of the most globally popular inhabitants of all.

But keeping healthy stream counts and fishery quality takes regulation, and the Ministry of Forests, Mines and Natural Resources is slapping down more on the Skeena River, which will come into effect April 1, 2012.

“There are a  couple of things … maintaining the quality angling experience and also addressing issues around resident angler priority and maintaining resident angler priority,” said district fisheries manager Andrew Wilson. “When there are fees, they will be attributed to the foreign anglers first and residents last.”

There are four classifications of sport fishermen who are regulated: B.C. residents without a guide; Canadian anglers without a guide, foreign anglers without a guide, and anglers with guides.

Changes to these regulations include hiked fees for non-residents, both Canadian and foreign; extended steelhead stamp requirements, which are intended to moderate and monitor fishing; policy which will spread guided anglers over the whole season to keep river crowding down; increases and decreases to the number of allotted fishing days for guides, and new times and zones for Canadian anglers where foreigners won’t be allowed to fish.

Changes will see an extended classified water period from July 1 to December 31, extended mandatory steelhead stamps from July 1 to December 31, more guided rod days by 586 days amongst 12 new guide licences in a zone from Flint Creek  to Chindemash Creek, resident only in two  “hot spot” zones on Saturday and Sunday from July 1 to December 31, one with guiding and one without.

These changes were made on the heels of a working group focused on improving the steelhead fishery in the Skeena watershed. The group involved local anglers, guides, tourism operators, business community members, non-Canadian anglers and First Nations.

But there is concern from locals that increased pricing for foreign anglers might not change their fishing habits.

“A steelhead angler is a steelhead angler and he’s going to fish for them no matter what they cost,” said Bruce Bystrom from Misty River Tackle and Hunting, who explained that because this region has the top steelhead fishery in the world which people travel for, hiking  prices represents a fraction of costs paid to get here.

Local guide Stan Doll, who has 40-plus years of guiding experience, said foreign non-guided fishers should be of top concern.

“There’s lots of rules that are made for guides, they keep us honest,” he said.  “But they don’t really apply to the every day Joe.”

“The main problem is the Copper is overrun with unguided non-residents,” he continued. “They’re destroying the fishery.” Most of Doll’s clients are from the United States and Europe, he said, and they pay about $5,000 to lodge, eat and fish without their flights included.

There are currently five registered guides on the Skeena, said Doll, who split 128 fishing days between themselves and each day counts for one guest.

But many foreigners travel and lodge in local hotels, RVs and campgrounds, he said, saving money on fishing that way which removes a barrier for many.

Currently, non-Canadian residents pay $60 CAD for steelhead stamps and $80 for a licence. Classified waters cost extra

“If there’s people everywhere, the quality of that fishery is gone, and that’s what people pay for… going out and seeing the wilderness,” said Doll. “If we allow people to keep going in here and paying 20 bucks a day to go fish the best rivers in B.C., there’s a problem.”

Doll, who helped write the regions fishing rules back in the 1980s, said regulation will need to be in place to ensure people stick to the rules.

“There is no provisions specifically for enforcement,” said fisheries manager Wilson. “(But) it will be reviewed. It’s not done and dusted never to be looked at again.”