Misunderstood motion

Why are people so quick to dismiss the Skeena Region's senior biologist?

We don’t believe that you should withdraw money from your account unless you know how much there is.

– Mark Beere, Senior Biologist, Skeena Region FLNRO

It was over 20 years ago. Dr. David Narver, head of Provincial Fisheries,  took the podium at the Annual General Meeting of the Steelhead Society of British Columbia for what had become an annual presentation to that body.

Normally, Dr. Narver gave a overview of the initiatives his staff planned to undertake for the upcoming year then introduced the regional heads who then described those activities in more detail. That year, many of us sensed there was something of significance in the air.

Dr. Narver’s audience consisted of dedicated Steelheaders. The majority belonged to the Kingfisher Rod and Gun Club, the overwhelming number of whom fished float rods, used bait, and were accustomed to killing a steelhead or two for the table now and then. Founding members of the Society like Dave Maw, Cal Woods, Pat Ahern, and Jim Culp, all firmly rooted in the provincial tradition of drift fishing, were there too. Steelheading flyfishers like Gerry Wintle, Lee Straight, Pete Broomhall, and Bob Taylor, still a minority in those days, were also in attendance.

Dr. Narver began by saying the Branch had utilized some sorely needed funds to undertake some much needed stock assessment. We all understood that having a good idea of the number of fish was fundamental to the management of a fishery.

Where we thought we had tens of thousands of steelhead, said Dr. Narver, we discovered we had thousands. Where we assumed we had thousands, we had hundreds, and where we were sure we had hundreds, we had tens.

We realized that Dave Narver’s words heralded a paradigm shift in fisheries management. The days of punch cards and permission to kill a couple of fish a day and have more than that in one’s possession were gone unless we opted for hatcheries on our rivers as our neighbours in Washington had done.  Fearing that hatcheries ran counter to the biological imperatives of natural selection, the Steelhead Society had discussed them and developed a policy opposed to artificial enhancement. We simply could not embrace the US model. Dr. Narver couldn’t either, with the result that B.C. opted to protect wild steelhead as the best bet for the species’ survival.

From that moment, we all starting letting steelhead go. If we hadn’t they’d be gone now.

Casting back on that talk, I remembered that not a single soul challenged Dr. Narver. Not one person stood up and questioned his assessment. Nobody wrote a letter of objection. For as much as we didn’t like the message, we knew that the messenger was backed by some pretty sharp scientists and a hard-working staff that had the welfare of fish uppermost in its priorities. We took for granted that it was folly to question the opinion of a fisheries scientist and his staff when it came to the assessment of a population of fish for the same reason that you wouldn’t question the judgement of your cardiologist when it comes to his diagnosis of the condition of your heart.

Now, decades later, Mark Beere, the senior fisheries biologist in Skeena Region, tells us that after reviewing all available data on Bull Trout and Dolly Varden throughout their range, after factoring in past experience, after reviewing regulations in other regions and Alaska, after considering endangered species designations, after weighing the latest scientific understanding of the species in question, after consulting with his staff, after acknowledging the considerable impact of proposed industrial development in the form of pipelines and their collateral development, and after  assessing the resources at his disposal, he believes the prudent course is to stop the kill of Bull Trout and Dolly Varden Char in streams.

This means that you and your kids can still kill a coho, a chum, a pink, a chinook, or sockeye, whitefish or grayling. You can also take home any trout or char found in a lake. Or you and your kids can catch a trout or char in a stream and let it go.

Yet Mark Beere and his colleagues have been met with petitions and resolutions from our council and a regional district who think they know better than professionals who spend their working lives studying such matters. Before those political bodies made any resolutions they had the obligation to invite Mark and his staff to their meetings to give a presentation. If they’d done this, I’m confident that they would never have made such motions.

Proactive management has the best chance to ensure kids will have a fishery in the future. That’s what Beere is advocating.


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