Local sport fishers and charter operators are shocked and disappointed on conservation measures announced Tuesday by the federal government to protect chinook salmon in B.C.
The Fraser River will remain closed to all salmon fishing until Aug. 23, and there is a non-retention restrictions placed on chinook for the southern Strait of Georgia until July 31, and July 14 for northern Strait of Georgia, followed by one-per-day retention allowances.
Those restrictions, say, western Vancouver Island charter operators, will be devastating for their industry – an industry that employs an estimated 9,000 people and has an economic impact on the west coast of Vancouver Island of $1.1 billion.
“Our government has failed us. They have lied to us and the decision they’ve made is a purely political one, not one based on science,” said Ryan Chamberlain, the owner of Vancouver Island Lodge in Sooke.
“They’ve gone completely overboard with these regulations and haven’t taken into account the socio-economic harm that they’re doing to our region.”
The Fisheries Department’s regional director general Rebecca Reid says urgent protection measures include the closure of a commercial fishery involving seven endangered stocks.
Reid said harvest management measures alone won’t deal with declining numbers of chinook in recent years due to multiple factors including warming waters because of climate change and destruction of habitat that must be rebuilt.
She said last year’s catch reduction by one-third to limit pressure on the stocks was not enough and the decrease in chinook also affects southern resident killer whales that depend on the salmon as their preferred prey.
Chamberlain disputes the premise entirely.
“This isn’t science. We’re being painted as the villains here but the truth is that we take such a small part of the salmon stocks that putting these restrictions in place will have a devastating effect on our industry while doing very little to have any impact on the chinook stocks,” he said.
“Environmental groups that are pressuring the government to shut the sport fishing industry down so that the whales have more food, and space to forage, are opinion based, not science and they do not have the local experience of what it is like to be on the water daily, and understand how we have no real impact on these whales foraging efforts.”
Rollie Rose, of Sooke Salmon Charters, said it’s obvious (environmental groups) have the ear of government.
“It’s sad. These are people who are well funded and who are all about telling people what they can’t do, but do nothing themselves to help to improve the stocks. People doing that are the fishermen,” Rose said.
“There are going to be whole communities up the coast that are just not going to survive. They rely on sport fishing, “
It’s a position that has been echoed by Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks, who has penned an open letter to the residents of the Juan de Fuca and Sooke to email the Fisheries Department to express their concern on the management of the issue.
“This will be devastating to the sport fishery and charter business and the people who rely upon it for their livelihood,” Hicks said.
Chamberlain said that the restrictions will create long term damage to the tourist industry in Sooke and that it will take years to recover.
“This is a win for environmental groups who just don’t understand that the changes to save the salmon need to happen in the river systems, not the oceans. I want to take these groups out on my boat so they can see first hand the way we fisherman have such little impact, I’ve reached out and they just don’t respond.”