In spite of COVID concerns last year’s Port Alberni Salmon Derby was a huge success. While fishing was spottier than usual the Derby raised $50,000 for Salmon restoration and
enhancement according to derby committee member Bob Cole.
Bob adds that this year they have printed 2,500 tickets, for the September 4-6 event, compared to 1,750 last year which sold out quickly.
The 50th Anniversary Derby is basically organized and run by a small committee made up of Bob Cole, who has been involved since 1972, Gone Fishing tackle shop owner Al Ehrenberg who also manages ticket sales, derby accounting and prize money, and Tyee Club President Carolyn Jasken who is known as “the Voice of the Derby” after years of providing derby updates on Marine Channel 6 radio. This small ad- hoc group hosts the event with the help of the Alberni Valley Tyee Club.
Proceeds from the derby went to the Huuayaht Youth Warrior Group, the Bamfield Volunteer Fire Department and the Alberni Wrestling Club.
These groups provided volunteers who manned the derby weigh-in stations. Al Ehrenberg added that $20,000 out of the $50,000 went to the Pacific Salmon Foundation, as well as the Chinook net pen project near China Creek and the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association.
Fred Duncan, who owned the Alberni Valley Times newspaper, is credited with starting the first Alberni Salmon Festival in 1972. The idea came after he and his son fished in the Vancouver Sun Derby the previous year. Fred approached the Tyee Club about taking over the Labour Day weekend derby and turning it into a festival. Duncan saw it as a means of keeping local residents in town during the holiday and to encourage tourists to visit Port Alberni. The Greenwood Motel was the original festival headquarters but, after the first year, that location shifted to the new Clutesi Haven Marina where it remained until 2019.
Carolyn Jasken’s research discovered that the 1972 event was hotly contested. Gilbert Dore’s 52 pound 2 ounce winner bested Alberta visitor Basil French’s 51 pound 14 ounce and Sheshaht Chief Adam Shewish’s 51 pound 4 ounce giants. Apparently French’s fish weighed 54 pounds when caught, but bled out considerably between the time it was landed and the time it was weighed in.
Other Derby Facts
- Initially the entry fee was $1 per day
- The derby record, 60.5 pounds, belongs to Art Berlinski, 1982
- Most tickets sold- 4,400
- Contestants traveled from England & Scotland to participate
- Originally it was a two part event. Derby qualifying took place from August 7th to October 8th. Anglers who landed the heaviest 75 salmon during qualifying participated in the October 9th final. This format later changed to an “open to all” Labour Day weekend event.
The logo shown on the 2021 derby poster was created by aspiring artist Shauna Jasken. Her mother Carolyn Jasken explains that the fish tail is holding up the spirit of the mountains, which represents Port Alberni. Jasken says “it’s all about the salmon and the community’s commitment to ensuring salmon continue to return to Port Alberni’s rivers”.
Port Alberni was going through some hard times a decade ago but it was actually some negative publicity that spurred the community into action. Money Sense magazine had just tagged Port Alberni with the “worst place to live” title. This motivated supporters, including Jasken, to enter Port Alberni in the World Fishing News Ultimate Fishing Town in Canada contest, which Port Alberni won. This year is also the 10th Anniversary of that title.
Al Ehrenberg predicts a great Derby this year given the Chinook return to the river is expected to be strong. He echoes the sentiments from Carolyn and Bob that the Derby is a bonus for Port Alberni’s economy and a terrific fundraiser for local salmon restoration. Tickets, when they are made available, can be purchased at Gone Fishin’ stores in Port Alberni, Courtenay, Nanaimo and Duncan as well as Breakers Marine and Port Boathouse in Port Alberni.