Red Flags and Charging Bulls

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

[Convert to USD or other currency]

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.

Comments 6

  • Well Bob! I know you have a problem with guides, and I definitely have a problem with Skeena Meadows! ( I know u didn’t divulge the name, but I think our legal family run guiding operation has the best interests of all the fish in mind! The problem is that most of the biggest operations legal or illegal , do not care about the fish! Just on the Kispiox one operation went from 3 one storey cabins to 8 two storey cabins , and the owner lives in Austria! He comes to Canada from August to November!

    • There are some good guys out there Gene and I don’t mean to tar every guide with the same brush. I do take issue, however, with the out of country types who essentially take blood from our steelhead stone but never show up in a conservation related forum. Same goes for most of our own legitimate guides. As you know, I spent half a lifetime in the Skeena steelhead conservation arena, frequently as the only voice for steelhead against a small army of DFO and commercial fishing industry reps. I have all the scars to prove it. I can count on one hand how many times I saw any of the past or present day big time guides on the Skeena in any of those situations. Try talking rod day quotas though and they’ll show up with guns loaded and dominate the agenda. It really is a bit much to see social media ads extolling the virtues of the Skeena as if it is still the good old days.

  • Bob, I’m interested in how dead whales on the east coast have seized the ministers attention, when the fish crisis here on the west coast simply has not. I think maybe we need better allies.

    • I’ve been watching that too Brian. As always, especially with an east coast Minister of Fisheries, that side of the country gets all the attention. Throw in the number of whale advocates relative to sport fishermen and there is never any doubt which way politicians will lean. Besides, getting the sport fishing fraternity on the same page is worse than herding cats. I’m as realistic (pessimistic, cynical) as you’re likely to find on the fisheries front. Too much inside experience to be otherwise. I just think it worthwhile to leave a bit of a record of the times and circumstances on the off chance there are some who might find such information instructive.

  • I don’t have much new to add that hasn’t been said before. However, lest I be counted as the many viewers on this blog that don’t provide comment, I’ll offer some, as follows:

    1. governments are inept at managing renewable resources. Take a look at our forest industry as yet another example of their complete incompetence. So, don’t think for a minute that they will ever be successful in managing such a complex, multi-species resource as our fisheries. Our fisheries are destined to collapse and morph into extinction; it’s just a matter of time;
    2. in some ways, I don’t blame anglers for not providing input to federal and provincial agencies. After all, when has it ever helped the resource? In example, Cal Woods (and others) was an ardent defender of Thompson River steelhead. We all know what has happened to the Thompson;
    3. until the commercial fishery, FN, the guide industry and business interests come together and demand change and conservation of our salmonid resource, governments will continue to turn a blind eye to the situation at hand. If anyone truly believes that these groups will ever hold conservation above their own greed and that it will actually happen, that’s the day to buy a lottery ticket. In short, it will never happen. They will all be standing in line, cashing in on the last fish.

  • Gene, my understanding of the Kispiox operation you are referring to above is….
    they are replacing 5 very old shacks with new modern 2 bedroom cabins all on the same footprint of the historic original cabins and replacing the dilapidated old main lodge building. This operation is owned by a Austrian couple who are providing relatively inexpensive accommodation for non-guided DIY anglers, including BC residents, who cannot afford expensive lodges priced in US dollars. This operation provides DIY anglers an opportunity to fish the Kispiox above the expensive access licence required IR stretches of river where the guiding operations have paid First Nations for exclusive access rights.
    Historically there were additional accommodation (lodges/cabins) opportunities on the Kispiox that have been closed for many years, so its nice to see someone still offering an affordable (non camping) opportunity for common folks to fish the Kispiox!

    Bob, thanks for keeping us informed!

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