Reg rage four

Our columnist Rob Brown gives you the insider take on the fishing industry

Despite the shoddy logging that has taken place in the Terrace area (and surprisingly is still going on at a much reduced rate) we are still internationally famous for our salmon fishery, one subset of which, the steelhead fishery, is the finest in the world. The salmon fishery is at the heart of the nascent tourism industry in the Skeena Valley, and a well controlled, financially stable, lucrative guiding industry is essential to its success.

Entering the penultimate round of the Quality Waters Strategy (QWS) talks, the representatives of the Terrace guides, Dustin Kovacvich, Randy Dozzi, Dan Daigle, and Andrew Rushton, hoped for a consensus that would bring stability to their industry, provide an opportunity for sensible growth within it, and deal with the issue of illegal guiding.

Like the representatives of the other stakeholders, they expected  the negotiations to revolve around the ministry’s historical angling use data, some notion of the amount of fishable water on each river, and some suggested guidelines regarding what percentage of resident angler, guide, and non resident alien anglers might participate in the fisheries.

This was a reasonable expectation considering that the Angling Management Plans developed for the rivers in the Kootenays and, prior to that, those originally developed for the upper and lower Dean River, did exactly that. The original QWS document we were handed at the first session suggested that the talks would proceed along these lines, but they didn’t.

At the outset we were told that one of the tools we could employ to prevent crowding was a reservation system, much like the way camping is regulated in parks. The concept had an immediate buy in from almost all participants and, seemingly, awaited some tweaking before getting acceptance. Between sessions there was some aggressive lobbying by foreign interests who had no business being involved in the determination of Canadian laws.

Not so mysteriously, when we reconvened, we were informed that the reservation idea was no longer a strategy we could employ. At a time when the phone I have holstered on my belt will do more than a super computer could do a few years ago and piece of plastic half the size of a popsicle stick can hold more information than the Terrace Public Library, we were told that the Ministry (the same institution that has been calculating limited entries and draws for hunters years before the advent of pocket calculators) simply did not have the technology to manage such a reservation system. The guides’ reps pointed out that guide use on the Copper River amounted to 5% of overall angling use, according to the ministry’s own data, and suggested something in the neighbourhood of 10% would not be an unreasonable increase in use by limited number of guides working that river. In the end they got much less than that.

On the stretch of Skeena from Flint Creek, just east of Kitwanga to Terrace, the ministry had an unused allocation of 1000 days. At the end of negotiations the guides were given the opportunity to a bid of just under 600 days on this large section of river which, because it is a fishery targeting moving fish and offers hundreds of fishing spots, could easily have handled three times that number of days without causing anything that could reasonably be called crowding.

If the Lakelse River was in Quebec or New Brunswick, it would have a number of guides whom non-residents would be required to hire in order to fish. Local guides long ago agreed to stay off the Lakelse River. The QWS document set out a hierarchy of exclusion that stated non residents would be the first group restricted by regulations, guides would be next group restricted, and  residents the last. This over arching principle provided guides with a strong argument to open the Lakelse  to guiding.

They didn’t press for this with the understanding that non residents, who fish the river in significant numbers and guide themselves on it, had to be restricted. Out of this came the recommendation that only residents would fish the river above the power line 2 km above the Skeena confluence. That recommendation was adopted but with an amendment brought in to satisfy objections from DFO that defines all residents of Canada as residents. What that means is that you or I, as non  residents of Quebec or New Brunswick, require guides or are otherwise restricted when fishing salmon on the rivers in those provinces, while Quebeckers and anglers from NB can fish the Lakelse unfettered by similar rules, and the aforementioned principle has been thrown out the window.