A hopeful fisherman finds a cool place to cast his line along the Vedder River on Tuesday.

A hopeful fisherman finds a cool place to cast his line along the Vedder River on Tuesday.

Creating a culture of safety on the Fraser River

The first ever Celebration of Safety and Culture on the River is slated for Saturday, Aug. 11 at Island 22 in Chilliwack.

It’s a chance to learn something vital about staying safe on the Fraser River.

The first ever Celebration of Safety and Culture on the River is slated for Saturday, Aug. 11 at Island 22 in Chilliwack.

It’s a day for getting outdoors, tasting some salmon, meeting river users, and sharing cultural fishing practices.

“Safety is a big part of the celebration, but it’s a two-pronged approach,” said Rod Clapton of the BC Federation of Drift Fishers. “It’s also a demonstration of the spirit of cooperation that’s been achieved between local First Nations and the recreational fishing community,”

Clapton is also a member of the Fraser River Peacemakers, a local group which has been working on creating a climate mutual respect among users, as well as anticipating and avoiding any potential conflict on the river hotspots and areas of high use.

“We’ve learned that we have to share the river. We’ve come to appreciate the constitutional rights of First Nations with regard to the fish, and they’re starting to appreciate that we’re not going to go away either.”

It’s the first time a joint river-focused initiative like this one has ever come to fruition to his knowledge.

More than 20 water safety, river or fish related groups will be represented.

“There has been a real buy-in. I say let’s get out there, demonstrate we can get along, save a few lives and build for the future,” said Clapton.

One way to save lives might be to promote the use of personal floatation devices.

Numerous drownings every summer are reported along the mighty waterway, said Dave Barrett, president of the Fraser River Salmon Table Society.

“The river is world-class with lovely scenery and mountains, but it’s also very dangerous.”

Deadly in fact. The river event will see that topic tackled head on.

The Salmon Table formed a subcommittee to look at river safety issues, with the goal of addressing why so many river stakeholders steadfastly avoid the use of personal floatation devices (PFDs) all together.

“Nobody out here wears a bloody life jacket,” Barrett said with some frustration.

One of the ideas that’s emerged is a getting a custom designed PFD just for river users, with their unique needs and requirements in mind. There are stories of fishermen drowning after getting dragged out of the boat and into the water when the the buckles or other parts of the PFDs got caught in a gill net.

The astronomical growth of sport fishing on the lower Fraser is a relatively new phenomenon.

“Twenty-five or 30 years ago we didn’t have a river fishery like this,” said Dave Moore, executive director of the Fraser River Salmon Table.

“Today, look at all the access points. They’re not all developed but they’re fully used. So we have to work toward building a culture of river safety.”

The process has been “exciting” to watch, Moore said, and the collaborative approach with a range of river users is clearly working.

“We are moving away from the point where we have an aboriginal fishing community, a sport fishing community, and a commercial fishing community, and moving into a river fishing community.

“It’s being built. You can see it in the agenda of the Peacemakers and with the river event. The work being done crosscuts all the politics on the Lower Fraser.”

Celebration of Safety and Culture on the River, August 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Island 22 Regional Park. Free entry with no gate fees. It’s a family friendly event with displays, activities and demonstrations sponsored by Fraser Valley Regional District in cooperation with the Fraser River Peacemakers and local First Nations. Chilliwack Search and Rescue will be doing a demonstration and there’s a chance to take part in the Learn to Fish program.

For more details email parks@fvrd.bc.ca.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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