A convoy of trucks circled the courthouse Tuesday in support of anglers with a court appearance in Chilliwack for participating in a “demonstration fishery” on the Fraser River back in September.
Pickup trucks hauling jet boats sported signs like: “Public Fisheries Matter” and “Bar Fishing is Selective Fishery.”
The “demonstration fishery” held on Sept. 9, 2020 was an act of civil disobedience by members of the Fraser Valley Salmon Society (FVSS) and Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance (FVSA). They said their rights, and the rights of their grandchildren, to a “public fishery” were threatened by the lack of fishing opportunities, even when stocks are sustainable.
The demonstration saw more than 70 anglers participate. Organizers said at the time that the idea was to bar-fish selectively in order to demonstrate they could avoid impacting any migrating stocks of concern.
They were warned by fishery officers as they headed out that it was an unauthorized demonstration for which they could be fined or have rods confiscated.
“Those tickets were a catalyst to continuing our efforts to secure allocation and the opportunity to fish with a public fishery,” FVSS president Dean Werk said.
The legal route was seen as the only viable option remaining as all negotiations with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) had proven futile, they said.
In the end, five people were charged. Ashley David Parnell was charged for fishing during a closed time under the Fisheries Act, while Nathan John Albert Bootsma, Brian Donald Ego, Brian Christopher McKinlay, and Tony Destradi were charged for fishing for salmon during a closed time.
The men had a first court appearance Tuesday and their matters were put off until a later date.
A GoFundMe page to pay the legal fees was launched by the FVSS to support the FVSA, raising $27,180 as of Dec. 1.
In terms of context, fisheries officials were acting on record-low returns in 2019 when the government’s 2020 Fraser River Chinook salmon management measures were released in June 2020, expanding on sweeping salmon fishing closures and restrictions imposed last year.
DFO said the severe restrictions were necessary to protect 12 of 13 wild Fraser River chinook runs assessed to be at-risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. There were no licensed commercial, recreational, or First Nations FSC (food, social and ceremonial fisheries) for Fraser sockeye either this year. Historic low returns to the Skeena River triggered its own set of restrictions and closures.
– with files from Quinn Bender
(*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story pointed to five other individuals charged under the Fisheries Act for different offences. Those men also had first appearances in Chilliwack provincial court on Dec. 1, 2020, but they were unrelated to the demonstration fishery in this story.)
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