Skeena Alert

Quality fishing…..going, going……???

A few people with a stake in the classified waters fisheries of the Skeena country know there are discussions underway between the government folk responsible for managing those fisheries and several angling guides who operate there. The vast majority of us who journey to those waters annually know nothing or, at best, are on the outside looking in. If you’re like me, you don’t have a problem with enlightened discussion about the future of those once upon a time world class fisheries. But, when those discussions occur behind closed doors in high end steelhead lodges and involve only government and guides, hackles rise.

The information coming my way is from local residents who became aware of such meetings and decided to organize themselves into a group whose intent is to launch somewhat of a counter-offensive. Again, fair enough. Just one question – what about the rest of us? Who speaks for the British Columbia residents who fish the Skeena tributaries and account for half or more of the annual angling effort but don’t live in the communities where these discussions are held? We contribute every bit as much license revenue and undoubtedly provide disproportionate economic contributions to local businesses because, as travelers, we buy a lot of goods and services that locals don’t.

And, where are our government fisheries managers in all of this? Have they made anyone outside that inner circle of guides aware of processes well underway? Where, when, how? Do they have a timetable or agenda? I have sent a number of personal emails to senior staff of the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations in Smithers since January of this year. Questions and comments around the level of angling guide use, boat issues, the proliferation of stand alone, independent camps allowed under a single angling guide license, corporate concentration of rod day quotas, data gathering programs that were promised to clarify long outstanding questions around who is responsible for alleged “crowding”, etc. Nary a one was answered. Stonewalling only adds to perceptions, based on long time professional experience and even longer angling experience with guiding on Skeena tributaries, that resident anglers are not being accorded fair opportunity to be heard.

The greatest problem with managing the Skeena area classified waters fisheries is the lack of data to either support or refute commonly held beliefs with respect to how many people are fishing and what license category they represent (BC resident, non-BC Canadian resident or non-Canadian resident). Further, how many of those people are guided? If anyone thinks these questions can be answered definitively given the existing state of license data retrieval and reporting systems, they are just plain wrong. Until those circumstances are addressed the mythology and religious convictions that have trumped all else since the mid-1990s will continue.

How about an illustration or two to emphasize that point? There were guardian programs on the Bulkley River in 2013, 14 and 15. As far as I have been able to determine by inquiry to the Smithers office, only the 2013 report has been completed. I have a copy. All I can say is, if that report is taken as reflective of what the Bulkley fishery looked like in 2013, bad decisions will be made. I note that I fished for extended periods in all three years the guardians were supposedly active and I never encountered one.

Second, in a reflective moment after receiving a broadly circulated summary of license sale information several weeks ago, I thought it would be interesting to tease out the non-Canadian angling activity on the Babine River, a river I have long personal experience on. In that situation a high proportion of the traffic is made up of guided anglers who do not reside in Canada. Interestingly the license sales data indicated there were far fewer non-Canadian rod days fished than there were rod days allocated to the guides. Now, there are a variety of potential sources of the obvious problems noted and I attempted to take them up with those who might be able to address them. So far, no response. What concerns me most, though, isn’t so much the discrepancies in that particular situation. Its more that the people directly involved in compiling these data didn’t recognize their numbers didn’t make sense. Apparently the multiple and diverse hands whose collective task is (presumably) to summarize license sales data, issue angling guide licenses and their inherent rod day quotas and scrutinize mandatory angling guide reports are not connected. Perhaps there is a logical explanation for the obvious discrepancies but who is examining such questions? If the one and only circumstance on which I chose to perform my own little test of data quality reflects what exists for other Skeena tributaries, we can all squirm mightily over any discussion or decisions based thereon.

One of my early mentors, Dr. Ted Bjornn, at the time a widely acknowledged authority on freshwater fisheries management, preached to his graduate students repeatedly – good management requires good information. I’ve not forgotten his sermons. If management of angler use on the classified waters of Skeena is ever going to meet its stated objectives there needs to be an irrefutable data base underlying it. That message is almost as old as classified waters but we’re still dancing around the edges of things like guardian programs that will only proliferate uncertainty and debate. Here’s what should/could be done.

  1. Subject to existing classified waters regulations respecting who gets to fish where and on what days, require every angler that wants to fish any classified river in the Skeena drainage to obtain a river specific permit for each day they intend to fish. There would be no limit on how many daily permits someone could purchase, at least not until it could be demonstrated conclusively who needed to be controlled. The clients of all those service providers who claim not to be guides would be subject to the same system. The reservation system now well tested by BC Parks is ample evidence of a system readily adaptable to classified waters. Check it out:
  2. Amend the existing regulations respecting penalties for non-compliance with angling licensing and the suggested permit requirements. Presently the license fees for, say, a week of classified waters angling for a non-Canadian resident exceed the fine and the risk of being caught is negligible. Fines should be a deterrent, not an invitation to non-compliance.
  3. Develop a fee structure that facilitates the hiring of bona fide enforcement personnel that have full power to demand that anglers produce their licenses and permits. The guardians of the present have no authority to demand licenses or deal with anyone who refuses or is suspected of being non-compliant.
  4. Investigate and remedy problems with respect to retrieval and verification of angling guide reports of licenses sold to clients who use any rod days that fall under that guide’s rod day quota on all classified waters. Similarly, investigate and remedy problems with respect to license sales data summaries for all other licensees on classified waters.
  5. And, while we’re at it, lets get on with amending those regulations governing conditions of an angling guide licence on unclassified waters (as per my June 4 post). Maybe then we can begin to address all the same issues that drove the development of classified waters management and are now eliminating a steadily diminishing supply of alternative angling opportunities.

If enough people raise their voice on the future of fishing on the Skeena’s classified rivers we can achieve a more defensible and broadly accepted management system. Make your views known to those Smithers FLNRO officials while there might still be time. The key contacts are:

Anthony Pesklevits, Director, Resource Management

David Skerik, Manager, Resource Stewardship

As a final note dare I suggest quality fishing is an elusive concept that will never be achieved in the absence of limits on the number of participants? The Atlantic salmon world abounds with examples. Look to some of the storied rivers of the north shore of Quebec, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Norway, the Kola Peninsula or, if you prefer steelhead, try Kamchatka. If we are serious about delivering on long standing objectives for classified rivers management we need to start thinking about how many of “us” get to play per unit time and space but not before we have the hard data to guide intelligent decisions. If business opportunity and economic activity is our gospel then forget classified waters regulations and the continuing agony of pretending to deliver quality fishing. Let anyone who wants to be a guide fill their boots, reduce license fees and reinstate a kill fishery for steelhead. I’ll bet the farm we can turn the Bulkley into Vedder north and the money will flow as never before.

How much longer?

Comments 25

  • I support everything you’ve proposed, however this:

    “undoubtedly provide disproportionate economic contributions to local businesses because, as travelers, we buy a lot of goods and services that locals don’t.”

    is incorrect. Locals produce orders of magnitude larger economic contributions to the local/regional economy. How many houses, boats, trucks, renovated bathrooms, and farmers market visits are a part of a visiting angler’s trip?

    • I agree that locals are big contributors but counting houses, trucks and renovated bathrooms as part of the equation around the economics of classified waters really doesn’t wash. I bought a boat and a truck too but I don’t live in Smithers. Why shouldn’t my purchases be on your ledger?

      • I feel compelled to state the obvious here.
        There is no value in debating which BC resident contributes more dollars to the fishery. A BC resident is a BC resident, and as such, should be entitled to an equal voice in BC angling management…regardless of the region.
        It is precisely the narrow focus on dollars that has eroded the quality of our angling experience in this province. (read GREED here)
        Thanks for this post Bob…your efforts are helping me to maintain some small glimmer of optimism.

    • If you ask many of the businesses on Main St. Smithers they will tell you that before the Quality Waters Strategy came into effect, September was a bigger retail month for them than December. Not any more….

      • …Illustrated my point perfectly Kathy. The profit margin experienced by main street Smithers should NOT be the driving factor of angling management in this province.

  • Bottom line it’s a ” Public Resource” !!!
    Food Source – Natural Resource – Navigational Waters – Recreational But NOT a Industry as per Xxxxxxxx figures generated from Guiding Outfits !
    If this the case as per government and guide outfitters point of view then it should be a financial return in a royalty if this is the way the Skeena is defined.
    It has been apparent that in the last few years with addition a few new management operations that are foreign owned but managed under a Canadian Residence licence holder that this issue has risen to the top of the list of government priorities.
    Could it be another money talks to politicians more so than the aboriginals and Residence of the country or province that hold first interest in this value ????

  • Hey Bob. I fully agree with your comments that every angler be counted. A small fee deitcated to conservation would tell us what the real use is. I know B.C. Residents do not want to get a daily licence ,but it is the only sure way of seeing what happening out there. Let’s manage our fishery.

  • I agree that every angler should be counted and strict measures be put in place for foreign anglers.

  • Upon mention of some of the great Atlantic salmon rivers of Quebec in the current blog, I was prompted to check out this e-link to the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s, River Notes section of their weekly ASF Report
    A portion of that report contains a listing of salmon catches on four Quebec rivers. The rivers are; the Moisie, Causapscal, Matapedia and the Bonaventure. This list is updated weekly and compared to the previous two years catch during that particular week.
    Interesting to note, as an example, this year to date, on the Moisie 101 salmon were reported as captured, with 77 of them listed as being killed. On the Causapscal 68 salmon were reported as captured, with 57 of them being killed.
    Incongruous as it may seem, killing salmon is still part of good management. Or am I missing something here?

    • You’re not missing anything Rory. Tradition dies hard in Atlantic Canada. Its been roughly 40 years since I first interacted with the ASF’s point man (Alex Bielak) on catch and release issues at a symposium in Arcata, California. C&R was virtually an unknown to ASF at the time and it took forever for them to “wake up and smell the coffee”. Most of Atlantic Canada today still permits a kill on grilse at least. The good old boys who owned and controlled fishing rights on the rivers you mention for most of their history don’t readily subscribe to new ways of doing business. Luckily for the larger multi-sea year salmon the fishing effort on those rivers is strictly limited so, even with a kill fishery, the numbers removed are not that great relative to population size. If there had been anything akin to the open angler access typical of this side of the continent I’m confident those revered fisheries wouldn’t be a shadow of what they are today.

    • Missing something , salmon on the east coast is in collapse, the regulations need to be changed asap New Brunswick is shut down, the bigger Quebec rivers need to be controlled!

  • Just so it’s clear, the vilified upper Skeena guide group actually approached some resident anglers and encouraged them to form a group to provide opinion to Government on this…

    • Tell me again how guides were vilified. If anything it is government that is in the crosshairs. And, why shouldn’t they be under the circumstances? Aren’t they the people whose responsibility it is to manage those rivers for all of us? Show me some evidence of anything like that happening. When the people at the top in FLNRO won’t even acknowledge public inquiries, I’m going to speak out, regardless of how that is perceived by guides.

    • This is the first I have heard of this. Both David & I are resident anglers and no one told us anything about this. I agree with Bob Clay that a small fee dedicated to conservation for resident angler would be a great way to determine just who is fishing and where.

  • It seems to me the River Guardian program data is going to, by design, account for a much larger number of un-guided, non-resident anglers. If that’s the only data set being used to try and tease out the angler situation, someone isn’t putting much thought into how to accurately account for what’s truly occurring. I don’t recall ever seeing a River Guardian in a boat (either powered or un-powered). When you consider that basically all of the guided anglers are accessing the river via boat, into places where the “River Guardians” never set foot, the problem pretty quickly shows itself.

    Seeing the River Guardians interviewing people at Quick or near Telkwa was a fairly common thing, but guess who is generally accessing the river at those locations…if you said non-guided, non-resident anglers you’d be on the right track. Without actually seeing the data I can pretty much assume what it’s indicating.

    It’s interesting to see the proliferation of the “remote tent-camp” operations that are sprouting up as you mentioned. The Nass system seems to be a hot-spot, I assume because it’s largely unclassified. On the Skeena system, I can find these operations via internet searching now on the Skeena main stem, Bulkley, Morice, and Babine. Not being familiar with the quantity of rod days available to outfitters, these operations are perplexing to me. Was there a large quantity of unused rod days that were recently sold to the highest bidder and have now become actively used? I was always under the impression that the rod days were largely being fully utilized (hence high prices and lack of day trips), but these new “remote camps” seem to indicate otherwise, as none of these operations seem to have sacrificed the utilization of their main lodge facilities.

    I tend to agree that resident angling pressure on classified waters needs to be counted somehow. Speaking as a non-resident, it wouldn’t even bother me if the resident “tags” were free, but the obvious problem then becomes a “dirty” set of data, due to the fact that when the tags are free some residents may just “buy” tags everywhere they might fish. A small fee would discourage some of that behavior, but would probably end up costing serious resident anglers more money to fish classified waters than they currently pay (which is admittedly very low), and would obviously create some level of inconvenience that doesn’t currently exist.

    • Ben,

      the guided angler portion of the overall angling effort is already accurately detailed in the guides daily reports. As such the government has the exact number of guided anglers on a given classified stream. All of your other points are valid. Very sorry to hear about the nasty situation with the foreign ‘guide’. Shameful. I hope future trips are better.

      • Brian,
        Bob’s post seemed to indicate that there are noticeable deficiencies in the use of that data. That’s not the say the guides aren’t submitting good data, but that it isn’t being compiled and used effectively in his opinion. Not sure where that would ultimately lead, but indicates a failure somewhere it would seem. I see your point though, that the River Guardians have no need to actively pursue counts of guided anglers “in theory” because it’s already there. Whether that data comes back around to create a holistic picture of the angling pressure and distribution is another question altogether.

        The “hosted” outfits seem to have become more brazen. Best I can tell, they really don’t have any loop-holes around the law, but feel comfortable actively promoting their ventures through the internet and do very little to hide what they are doing. Spend any time in the airport at Smithers and you’ll see hosts picking up their “clients” and openly discussing what their plans are. I’m surprised more pressure hasn’t been applied to them.

    • Brian Niska
      June 18, 2017 at 4:47 am
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      the guided angler portion of the overall angling effort is already accurately detailed in the guides daily reports. As such the government has the exact number of guided anglers on a given classified stream. Most of your other points are valid. I don’t believe there had been an increase in classified days issued on the Bulkley or any other river. Very sorry to hear about the nasty situation with the foreign ‘guide’. Shameful. I hope future trips are better.

      • “I don’t believe there had been an increase in classified days issued on the Bulkley or any other river.”

        The problem with this comment is that it is generally interpreted to mean there has been no increase in guiding. When my next book hits the shelves on Nov 7 people can judge this comment for themselves. I was one of the key people involved in the classified waters management system and its implementation going all the way back to 1988. Yes, the rod day quotas for the guides on most of the classified waters are the same today as they were when first legislated in 1990. Those quotas were never anywhere near utilized at the time but they have certainly been sold and re-sold to new kids on the block who now play a very different game. If anyone thinks the guiding picture on the Skeena or any of its tributaries today is anywhere near similar to what it was when the regulations were enacted, that is simply not correct.

  • Complex issues here! The future welfare of the fish is fragile, due to environmental threats as much as anything. Reducing the steelhead’s value to dollars and cents is a dead- end street. To control angling pressures is one of many issues. I’d support a small fee to obtain better enforcement and data collection from stream surveillance. The day may come when we need to enter a lottery for “tags” to fish on any certain stream at a certain time. Anything is better than the demise of the fishery due to greed.
    My thoughts are tempered somewhat by having been rudely run off the Skeena by a tall fellow from Spain. He was accompanied by 3 other anglers (I assume he was guiding them illegally). He was the “enforcer”, staking out a very long stretch of river at Cedarvale for his “friends” (read clients). I am too old to squabble with a strong forceful young fellow, no matter how keen I was to try out my newly-made cane rod So, let’s have some clear data, financial and conservation officer resources for enforcement to assist in managing the resource wisely, along with meaningful penalties for those who feel they are above the law.
    Great to have this forum and all contributions are worthwhile!

    • I have had similar experiences with “guides” from Italy, Germany and Holland on the Copper and Kispiox Rivers. There is so little chance of running into a conservation officer, it’s abusurd. In 27 years of fishing, I’ve been asked for my licence twice on the Bulkley (consecutive days by the same officer) and twice on the Lakelse (at the same location). Bob knows how Atlantic salmon fishing is managed in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, and it’s a far cry from the free-for-all that has developed in BC. By the way, there’s no retention of salmon or grilse again in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and catch and release is becoming more common in Quebec and Newfoundland.

  • Great post and great to see Mr Bob again noting the typical way the Regulation creating processes are managed in BC and all over the USA.
    Many issues not being confronted in this Skeena regionally is de rigueur and must stop.
    Having fished the Matise and Matane three other more notable rivers on N. Gaspe with Quebecers i know well how these gents resisted paying the fee for residents! Hated that! Would not pay and I fished days alone…..ha.
    As Bob says plainly, do nothing and get another Vedder asap.

    The entire notion that anyone has some type of Right to make money from a Public Resource is antiquated and was fought for years.
    Justify it!
    All you will ever get is adolescent myth making, wordsmithing about Free Market. An absolutely absurd Term foisted on the unknowing. There is NO Free Market. And especially in NA it has never existed soon after the Corporate funded colonists met the Indians!
    The entire idea that a Guide Business of multiple employees actually has a special place at the Table is an unjustifiable position. Soon I suspect the outcry to these unresponsive Upper level Gov. Managers will also include a growing stammering to rid the system of all non local single man traditional Guide Operations!

    As TR wrote. In 1916:

    “Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the ‘the game belongs to the people.’ So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method…”

    Greg Connolly

  • Correction…..
    Rid the system of all guides except local one man traditional Guide Operations.

  • Well put, Greg.

  • Being a reformed and retired alien banker, just a few thoughts on economic contribution by angler segments…

    Somewhat like an ecosystem all contribute to a free market. Taxes are commonly thought to be paid exclusively local but that simply is not the case. Taxes are in fact paid by all, even alien non-residents. In addition to licensing, even property taxes are collected from hospitality owners which are inadvertently paid by non-residents before the net income of ownership. Even Income taxes which are also paid by various professions such as auto mechanics, boat mechanics, marine, food and food services, hospitality,,,, yada-yada-yada, are earned with a non-resident component. Actually, even natural resources for building materials are purchased in part from visitors through this same free market mechanism. Every time you see construction of any kind there is a component of which is supported by non-residents. The same is true of all cash flows, government taxes, right down to the veggies sold at the Terrace Farmers Market.

    I’ll also remind everyone that some 13% (+/-) of homes within a close proximity to our gulf coast are owned by Canadians, not to mention RV and hotel visitation. The numbers of Canadians fishing, playing golf and otherwise recreating seven days a week dwarfs the numbers you talk about within R6. I strike up conversations with Canadians launching boats all the time in our waters, many on weekends. I always jokingly ask them if Americans are treating them properly. They invariantly always reply, yes… and I go on to jokingly tell them, that if not you let them know they will need to answer to me if they don’t.

    One more thing off my chest… If you go to YouTube you can search for edited footage of R6 guide(s) touting their Skeena Lodge guiding services with April Vokey, releasing one Steelhead after another. The illusion created is twenty fish days with exclusive access where you can fish with beautiful women and hold oxygen starved steelhead for bragging rights and images thereof to hang on your wall. That’s all fine and well, but this same guide is complaining about over crowded conditions? Enough said, but don’t you too agree there to be just a wee bit of hypocrisy here?

    When I hear words justifying segregation based upon economic contribution it pains me between my ears. It is far better for our fishery to combine our voice and cease our divisiveness. Steelhead know no boundaries…. just exactly like every living creature has a part in our ecosystem, within a free market so does every individual, local or otherwise.

    A wise man (Bob Clay?) once said, “Rivers Need friends too”. The only way the larger issues such as gill nets and commercial harvest can ever be mitigated is if we speak together and lobby as one. Decisions must be made in the sunshine for all to take part. Not behind closed doors.

    BTW,.. today I just paid Innovation Auto Works $1,200 for work they performed on my truck. From that Income, Property taxes will be paid and further distributed throughout the community.

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