If you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, on February 5 the DFO released a letter designed to, “communicate the Department’s approach for developing fisheries management actions to address conservation concerns for Fraser River Chinook in 2019.” In that letter the DFO asked for feedback on whether a scenario A—a shutdown of Chinook fishing—or a scenario B—a reduction of retention limits to 1 fish—would be acceptable. The deadline for feedback was March 1, and after hundreds and hundreds of letters were sent explaining the impact to local businesses of a closure, an announcement has still not been made. This has put the recreational fishing industry in serious turmoil as they wonder if they will be operating their businesses or not this summer.
Today (April 4), it would be an understatement to say there is concern over whether the DFO will decide to shut down the Salish Sea for Fraser River Chinook. And while tidal licences for the 2019-2020 season are on sale with no new regulations announced, everyone is sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what the DFO plans to do.
From a local recreational fisherman standpoint, people have been holding off on buying licences until they know if they’ll be allowed to fish for Chinook or not. And perhaps the decision was made to make an announcement after the April 1 opening of recreational tidal fishing licenses, as it can affect some 200,000 to 300,000 annual purchases. Even at a meager $22.05 for the annual licence (not including the $6.30 salmon conservation stamp for the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s conservation and enhancement efforts), that represents at a low estimate of $4,410,000 for the Government.
Scenario A: What Happens
According to the 2016 BC Stats study on Fisheries released in 2018, sport fishing generates $1.1 billion annually and employs more than 9,000 people in jobs directly related to the activity. As Chinook salmon are the key attractor for those planning trips and fishing in BC waters, and the majority of that activity occurs in southern BC, removal of opportunity through non-retention would have a profound impact. It would be remiss to not consider that communities and local businesses would be directly affected, and impacts on bookings and planned trips would be significant. Removing opportunity for the key species will see many trips canceled and refunds sought. Businesses’ reputations will be damaged—indeed, so will the reputation of the entire sector—and opportunity will be lost, in many cases, forever.
Many people who have a business stake in recreational fishing products and services on Vancouver Island have been hesitant to make their opinions public for fear of damaging relationships, and backlash for circumventing the political system of communication with the DFO that the Sports Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB) represents. Some local businesses however, were willing to provide their comments and experts from letters that they wrote to the minister explaining the direct impact scenario A will have on them. Here’s what they had to say (letters have been lightly edited).
Professional guide and Bamfield Sportfishing owner Ian Macdonald wrote, “The sportfishing industry has sustained our family for over 30 years. Not only financially, but nutritionally and spiritually. It has been my ONLY source of income for the past 31 years. It is my strong belief that the lives of my family and most of the families I know in our small community would be ruined with the effects of scenario A. We are a small but vibrant community who rely SOLELY on the recreational fishery off the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Without this tourism opportunity, Bamfield and similar communities would cease to exist as we know them today. This is not an exaggeration and can easily be corroborated by any of the businesses in this region.”
Trevor Zboyovsky, also a professional guide and owner of No Bananas Fishing Charters, said, “I’ve been making my living guiding in the Oak Bay & Bamfield areas since the day I graduated, 30 years ago. I’m not rich by any means but make a decent hard-working living for my family. If option A is implemented, it would be disastrous for my business and my family. It would mean losing my house, my boat, and most important, my way of life for as far back as I can remember. We are only one small family out of thousands of families on the coast that would be horribly affected by such a decision that in the end will do nothing to help the Fraser River Chinook. I hope before they make any decisions, they will think of how my young family and many many more families will be affected.”
Al Ehrenberg, owner of Gone Fishin’ fishing stores said, “Sportfishing is about opportunity, and as long as there is opportunity we will find anglers on the water. Option A would disenfranchise many fishers and would hurt our business. There would be a reduction in employment, revenue (including tax revenue), and spending by our stores. I would also anticipate a political backlash from anglers that would not be able to reconcile the much-improved fishing in the gulf over the last few years with such extreme measures.”
Rob Alcock, CEO of Gibbs-Delta, told Island Fisherman magazine, “Option A will devastate small coastal communities and the industry that provides thousands of jobs in BC. This is a complex issue with many moving parts. There has been no science provided that indicates Option A or even B will help meet DFO’s goals. In fact, they have not clearly identified their goals. Both options A & B are a public perception move with no regard for the ‘social & economic’ benefits that recreational angling provide to the province of BC. Furthermore, the recreational angler is the last ‘steward’ the salmon have left. The recreational fishing industry providers are the ones that are helping to financially support local net pen projects, hatcheries, and enhancement efforts. The anglers themselves are the ones that are coordinating these ventures and volunteering to get the work the done. Take these guys off the water, and the salmon have no one looking after them. Environmental groups are all talk, and for years, DFO has shown little interest in the Pacific Region and more specifically, salmon enhancement. Recreational anglers care more about protecting salmon and SRKW than any government or environmental group. They are the passionate and silent leaders who for many years have been putting salmon back into streams, rivers, and oceans. Minister Wilkinson and the Liberal government need to invest in the future of BC. Option A is not an Option!”
Owen Bird, Executive Director of the Sport Fishing Institute of BC suggested that the cost benefit relationship of any plan must be properly considered when a decision is made, “The difference in benefit to Chinook by implementing a 10% exploitation rate (ER) plan, meaning 90% of the Chinook in question make it to the spawning grounds, versus a 5% ER, meaning 95% of the Chinook escape to the spawning grounds, is difficult or impossible to measure because the numbers of fish involved are so small. Add, that the public fishery contribution to that 5% change is only 0.8%, other fisheries and impacts account for the rest. However, the difference in cost and impact of a 10% ER plan, which allows for limited opportunity and access to Chinook for the public fishery, and a 5% ER plan, which eliminates public fishery opportunity and requires non-retention of Chinook through the heart of the season throughout the south coast, is profound and would affect thousands of jobs and $100’s of millions in anticipated annual revenue to small communities and businesses in BC.”
On April 3rd, the Sports Fishing Institute released a newsletter to its members and gave us permission to republish it here:
April 3, 2019 Sports Fishing Institute newsletter
FRASER RIVER CHINOOK IN 2019
As all are aware, there are specific stocks of Fraser River Chinook that are in a serious state of conservation concern and require attention. Regardless of the impending decision, DFO must take swift and meaningful action to improve Fraser River stream type salmonid production through opportunities such as strategic enhancement, predator control and habitat rehabilitation.
CONSERVATION AND RETAINING OPPORTUNITY
While consistent reassurances from Minister Wilkinson that all decisions will be based on science are encouraging, as it relates to both whales and chinook, it must be noted that the science is far from complete. And, it is critical that social, economic and regional considerations are factored in to any decision-making process. Both the Prime Minister and Minister have publicly stated that in the 21st century we don’t need to make a choice between the environment and the economy, we must have both. Therefore, the cost of measures must be properly considered against the benefits to the resource.
There is significant concern that the tools and resources available to the department for analysis do not consider this critical cost-benefit relationship. Lacking adequate data for scientific and socioeconomic consideration, the door is left open for DFO to recommend an approach that does not acknowledge the cost of measures to small coastal communities, businesses and the 9,000 jobs that are directly tied to sport fishing versus the benefits to the stocks of concern.
The proposal put forward by the SFAB would achieve the conservation benefits asked for by DFO during its consultation process, while at the same time provide a bare minimum level of access and opportunity to allow the fishery, and the communities who depend on it to survive. The proposal addresses conservation concerns and moves south coast fishing related harvest away from the stocks of concern and on to more abundant hatchery produced salmon.
BENEFIT VERSUS COST
In terms of conservation benefits, it is important to note that the SFAB approach would allow 90% of the returning adults to reach the spawning grounds while the extreme and opportunity eliminating proposal would allow 95% of the returning adults to reach the spawning grounds. These are numbers of chinook where the difference is so small and hard to track that DFO would not be able to accurately measure.
It is challenging to understand how DFO can consider the profound negative socioeconomic impact of a non-retention, 95% option when it can meet stated conservation objectives and, at the same time, preserve the economic future of small coastal communities by implementing a 90% option.
In order to estimate the impact of imposing sweeping non-retention measures, it is necessary to understand that it is chinook salmon that drive tidal water angling activity and its associated $1.1 billion social and economic benefit to BC. Chinook salmon are the most prized catch. It is the opportunity to catch and retain chinook that drives the decision for many anglers to choose to go fishing in tidal waters. This is especially true for travelling anglers utilizing service providers including guides, lodges, resorts, motels, and campgrounds. The effects of no opportunity for chinook were fully realized in both 1996 and again on the North Coast (Prince Rupert) in 2018. Rather than shift to other species, when there is no opportunity for chinook retention anglers simply cancel plans. Effort and expenditure are not displaced or replaced they go away.
It is not reasonable to assume that anglers will simply shift their activity to later in the year. August and September are important and busy months for fishing and fishing tourism but, especially in August, accommodations, moorage, guides and charters are fully subscribed. There is no ability for anglers who cancel or attempt to defer trips in the peak May to July period to reschedule for August. Those economic opportunities will be truly lost and, in many cases, will not return due to the instability and uncertainty created.
And, we have a coast with large and distinct areas where reduction in harvest by the recreational sector would have no measurable effect on the stocks of concern. It is our hope that every effort will be made to maximize opportunity where it is suitable to do so.
REBUILDING AND CHANGING STRATEGIES
In the potential scenarios proposed there are key differences from the 2018 management regime. The most notable is a shift to including Mark Selective Fisheries (MSF). This is a fishery that is non-retention of all chinook that haven’t been adipose fin clipped at a hatchery throughout the entire stock of concern migration corridor when they are known to be present. The potential move to MSF is a paradigm shift in the management of the public fishery. Based on what has been observed in WA state and the steady increase and severity of management restrictions on wild chinook, this is a measure and option that anglers have been anticipating for some time. Harvest of the more abundant hatchery stocks can be a key component of achieving the balance between rebuilding wild stocks and maintaining a level of opportunity for the public fishery. A reduction in bag limits from 2 chinook per day to 1 per day including MSF is a significant reduction that would produce results.
Anglers also understand that rebuilding Fraser River Chinook stocks of concern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) is not a short-term proposition. MSF may well be here for a long time and as such it is critical that mark rates reflect hatchery production as soon as possible. Because of the implications to opportunity, for wild chinook and SRKW recovery, mass marking of all hatchery produced salmon in BC should increase significantly. Mark rates in many areas of the coast can rise dramatically without increasing hatchery production. An immediate priority of marking all chinook that are already being produced should be considered in the short term.
Until a decision is announced we will continue to urge, and encourage you to do so as well, the Minister and DFO to consider the need to achieve a balance between long term conservation objectives of Fraser River Chinook and the socioeconomic impacts ill-considered or politically motivated measures could have on the people, businesses and communities that depend on access to chinook. The negative socioeconomic impacts from a scenario that implements non-retention for chinook far outweigh the conservation benefits. We remain optimistic that a sensible, effective, region specific decision will be made that provides for public fishery access to Chinook including use of MSF and bag limit reductions.
Until next time, tight lines,
The SFI Team