After reading Jim Culp’s recent letter “Stop the brickbats”, I could see that both of us are on a similar path, which is to do as little harm as possible to our wild steelhead, as recreational anglers. Where our paths diverge, is on overregulation.
Rob Brown’s position on regulation change is that it’s simple. He stated, “…fly fishing should be mandatory for all steelhead fisheries. Bringing this about can be effected by simple regulatory changes.” (Counting Crowds, 2013)
A case in point, of Rob’s simple regulatory change, was the trout regulation change of 2014. Rob, who represents the Northern Branch of the Steelhead Society (NBSS), put forward to the Skeena Fisheries Advisory Committee several proposals for regulation change for trout and char in Region 6 – on the premise that trout stocks were in steep decline in the Skeena Region, even though this had no scientific backing. Most of these proposals I thought were fair & logical and would have no problem supporting, as laid out by the NBSS.
Unfortunately, the Fisheries disregarded NBSS’s proposals and came up with the new regulation that we have today. This is where it becomes a controversial issue. Since publicly this new regulation was unpopular, Rob’s friends have tried to distance him from this new regulation by saying, “Although I know that Rob supports the regulation, he does not have the authority to make such a rule.” (Angler Letter is Misleading, 2013) or “We have had no influence over the Fisheries Section decision.” (In Defense of the Fish, 2013). I think we all realize that Rob didn’t make the final decision, but to not agree that his involvement in this process, in whole or in part, led to this unforeseen outcome, would be short of delusional.
The Fisheries decision doesn’t surprise me. With budget and staff cuts, they don’t have the money or man power to scientifically investigate NBSS’s claims. What does surprise me though is how Jim, the chair of the NBSS, gives overwhelming support to a decision that virtually locks down areas of Region 6 that are barely touched by humans, when the NBSS had a viable solution. I guess it’s not for me to understand and probably has something to do with the inner workings of politics.
This regulation change process seems to be a bit of a crapshoot and anything but “simple”. You really don’t know what you’ll get after submitting a proposal. I believe this process should be the last resort, after all other avenues have been exhausted, not the first.
However, Jim has informed us that the NBSS has put forward a regulation proposal which says, “…do not hold a fish out of the water” and goes as far as to call it a, “…motherhood regulation”. Then without skipping a beat he says, “…it would be impossible to enforce such a regulation”. Wouldn’t this be a colossal waste of time & money putting this through the regulation change process, and if implemented, arming our Conservation Officers with a regulation they can’t enforce? This is a motherhood concept that has numerous benefits for steelhead, but should be tackled with education not regulation.
Jim is also in favour of regulating a daily limit on the number of steelhead anglers catch & release. Sure, implementing this as a regulation might make people feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but this is another concept that would be impossible to enforce and would be better off achieved through educational videos.
To fund these videos, I would recommend the NBSS, because of its considerable influence, apply for a grant from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. The HCTF will give a grant to anyone who has a good idea that benefits fish, wildlife and habitat in British Columbia and I believe the NBSS has a good case.
Jim also stated in his letter on steelhead abundance, “My understanding is that the Skeena steelhead total stock abundance is down from those earlier decades…”, which I would agree with, but the Tyee Test Fishery numbers don’t reflect “total stock abundance”. It’s an index number that represents the minimum steelhead escapement that is available upstream to recreational fisheries and other user groups. There is really no way of knowing what the “total stock abundance” of steelhead was back in the late 50’s, unless the canneries kept track of the steelhead they processed. So the fact remains, there’s more steelhead available today for fishermen, than what was available in the 1950’s.
In addition, over the past two decades, the Tyee Test Fishery steehead escapement (the best indicator of abundance we have) has been consistently above average but not necessarily reaching historic peak returns. If this trend is to remain stable or even improve in the future, then we need to tackle the bigger issues.
An unenforceable regulation by and of itself does not make fishermen behave responsibly, what’s needed is a culture change. Using today’s Social Media, that allows people to share information, ideas, pictures and videos in a blink of an eye, a difficult to enforce concept can be quickly adopted, improving angling ethics.
Maybe it’s time for the old guard to get out of the Stone Age and into the Twenty-First Century.