A new alliance of Fraser Valley anglers, fishing guides and retailers is staging an early morning fishery protest in Chilliwack Aug. 1 at the Island 22 boat launch.
‘Salmon for All: Fighting for our Heritage and Recreational Anglers’ is the rallying cry, or tagline being used by the Fraser River SportFishing Alliance, the organizers of the demonstration set for a holiday Monday.
They’ll be targeting chinook salmon during a closed period.
“This action was deemed necessary in reaction to Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s refusal to recognize our rights as anglers and Canadian citizens,” according to the press release. “We have been denied access to our negotiated allocation of chinook stocks determined after conservation requirements and First Nations allotments.”
Anglers are waiting to hear if a rec fishery opening for chinook, possibly for Aug. 1, will open or not.
In the past they’ve seen a “flourishing” chinook fishery for anglers opened as early as May — when numbers adequate for reaching escapement goals allowed it.
“This lack of an opening jeopardizes a recreational fishery worth in excess of $100 million dollars annually to Fraser River communities,” said the SportFishing Alliance.
Jennifer Nener, area director for the Lower Fraser for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said they consulted widely on the integrated management plan for 2016.
There were proposals outlining a far more “restrictive” management regime, she acknowledged.
And to date in-season returns, in step with outlook predictions, are looking “low,” she said.
“This year has been challenging for people,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s how it is. Conservation is our highest priority. Everyone has had to dial back.”
Returns are looking low, below 45,000, which means they opted for “Zone 1” management measures, after consultation with various stakeholders.
“Those are the strictest measures to ensure we meet our conservation objective.”
What does the DFO official think about the Fishery Protest planned for Aug. 1 at Island 22?
“DFO recognizes the public’s right to engage in peaceful protest,” Nener said.
In situations which do not remain peaceful, causing public safety issues or concerns, it becomes a matter for policing agencies,” she said.
“Beyond that DFO will be monitoring and will take appropriate enforcement action if there are violations of the Fisheries Act.”
The decision by the SportFishing Alliance to stage a protest was the upshot of in-depth discussions “recognizing the seriousness” of such a move. The fishers and other stakeholders feel their “Fraser River salmon heritage” is at stake, and the “fishing future” of their children.
Participants will be registering on-site, and recording catch data and sharing with DFO to demonstrate “the real impact” the sportfishing community has on Fraser River chinook salmon runs.
Mark Strahl, MP for Chilliwack-Hope, and Opposition Fisheries Critic said conservation of fish stocks “should be” the first priority of the government.
“After that, the courts have been clear that First Nations have a right to a Food, Social and Ceremonial fisheries allocation.
“If there are fish remaining after those two obligations have been met, I believe that recreational fishers should absolutely be provided with opportunities to catch and retain fish on a priority basis,” said Strahl.
He’s actually “encouraged” to see recreational fishers organizing and speaking up in this way.
“I’ve already sent a letter to Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc outlining the concerns that have been raised by the FRSA and am looking forward to a prompt reply,” he wrote in statement to the Progress.
He said he recognizes that sportfishing spinoffs represent “millions” in economic benefits to local economies in Chilliwack and Hope as well as generating billions in economic activity across Canada.
“This important sector should be celebrated, recognized and protected,” Strahl said.
“It is often easy for governments to ignore the recreational sector because most recreational fishers are not part of any organization. First Nations, Commercial and Recreational fishing interests all have a stake in the fishery and all of these interests, not just one or two, should be protected and defended.”