It just keeps getting better. Back to back messages showed up on social media last evening. The first was a posting by one of those I refer to as the steelhead pimps. You know, one of those booking agents from the land south of the 49th parallel who lines his pockets at the expense of BC steelhead on the premise that the business communities affected by fish and fishing in Skeena country are dependent on such services. Be that as it may, here’s a cut and paste from one of those advertisements. I’ve deleted the name of the guide/host, as well as the operation he is fronting for in this case. The underlines are mine.
August 13 – August 19, 2017
(Well known Guide) Skeena Camp I
Skeena River | Summer Steelhead & Salmon
with host (well known US business man)
A unique opportunity: Fish the Skeena from sunup to sundown for the biggest steelhead on the planet. 20-pounders headed for the Babine and Sustut, 30-pounders headed for the Kispiox; they’ll all have to pass our comfortable tent camp on the Skeena. Our challenge is to have flies in the water when these trophy fish migrate slowly up the river’s edge. Hook one and you’ll never forget it. • • • The Skeena in August is the anadromous fish superhighway; our steelhead will be mixed in with cartwheeling coho, huge chinook, tackle-busting chums, silvery and acrobatic sockeye and fiesty hump-backed pinks — all bright as a new dime, full of fight and very responsive to the fly. Each hookup holds an exciting element of surprise.
Target rivers: Mainstem Skeena
Group size: 7 anglers, including host
2017 rate: 3750 CAD + GST
Includes: 5+ days semi-guided fishing, 6 nights in river camp, all meals, airport pickup/dropoff
I doubt there is anything here that would stick from a purely legal perspective even if authorized enforcement people did go after any of it. There are just too many loopholes to drive trucks through. The questions of ethics, morals and business practices are front and centre though. For openers, where is the acknowledgement that Skeena steelhead are on the precipice of a worst case scenario right now? What about those “huge chinook” that have been so scarce this year the fishery for them was closed for most of the period they were passing through the waters talked about here? And, by the way, Mr. Pimp, you might want to check out the Skeena test fishery history on chinook. They are done by this point in the season, let alone the third week in August! Then there’s the sockeye that have been closed to commercial fishing and even to First Nations fishing, at least until last night. How is it you can advertise catching those “silvery and acrobatic sockeye” under the well publicized scenario for Skeena sockeye this summer? Furthermore, they too are essentially done by the time you accompany your sports for their 6 nights in a Skeena River camp? Those Skeena chum really could use some added attention too. They’re just as abundant as chinook and steelhead. While you’re at it, perhaps explain for us skeptics what “semi-guided” means and how that fits with classified waters regulations and rod day quotas.
People like to label me anti-guide. Well, its material like this that just keeps on coming while fish supplies keep on diminishing. Even more of a long standing sore point, though, is the complete absence of the angling guide community when conservation is in the forefront. The guides rise in righteous indignation whenever there is a hint of restrictions on where, when and how they can operate (there never is with respect to steelhead) and they are never short of seizing every opportunity to squeeze perceived competition out so they can sustain or increase their piece of the fishing opportunity pie. To reiterate what one guide said to me not long ago, yeah they all show up for a bigger piece of the pie but none of them are ever in the room when the size of the pie is the issue.
The second message of last evening was equally foreboding. Here it is:
I can’t help but wonder what “Skeena First Nations Management decisions have paid off!!” means. If someone can help in this regard your comment is invited. Just who is the management authority labeled here as “Skeena River First Nations”? It could be interpreted the references to Kitselas and the Terrace base phone number of the Lands and Resources office covers only the downstream component of the FNs community. Does that 30,000 sockeye apply to them only or to the entire Skeena FN community. I might add, most of the damage traditionally done to steelhead by mainstem Skeena gill nets occurs well upstream from Kitselas. What is the “48 hr rule”? The notice states it is critical that community members report catches to the Lands and Resources Office or to a Fishery Monitor “if asked”. What community are we talking about here? What if no one asks? Who might be monitoring? Where, when, how? Where might one go to be made aware of the catch reports?
So now those sockeye that outnumber steelhead by 108:1 as of this writing are going to be targeted to the tune of 30,000. You can bet the farm that 30,000 will be harvested with set and drifted gill nets that are 100% non-selective and there will never be a steelhead released alive. I’ve spent enough days observing First Nations gill nets on the mainstream Skeena to speak with conviction here. All that says is there will be less steelhead in the Skeena upstream from the test fishery than the test fishery estimates alone might otherwise imply.
It was established in the pre-season discussions that a threshold of about 600K sockeye would be the trigger for the constitutionally enshrined Food, Social and Ceremonial fishing the First Nations communities are entitled to. Understood. What is never discussed is the contingency plan for a steelhead return such as we have staring at us today. Sockeye and chinook command everyone’s attention and no one really cares about pinks or even coho. Then there are those other two species, chum and steelhead. The lowly chum salmon are as out of bounds in the discussion as steelhead.
There are rumours of unhappiness among upriver steelhead favouring anglers. There have been confrontations between anglers and FN fishers around the Skeena/Kalum confluence during their recent “selective fishery” for chinook. Now we have advertisements from the guide community that are certain to be perceived by some FN community members/leaders as an infringement of their constitutional rights. Why wouldn’t they be? At least the FN community talks the talk when it comes to the future of fish resources even if its hard to find evidence they do much walking. For the commercial recreational community there’s no tomorrow if you’re in business today and Skeena is still the grass beyond the mountains. Right?
Yup, its going to be an interesting season. Conservation (of steelhead at least) shows no sign of being in anyone’s vocabulary.