Skeena Steelhead Angling Opportunity – An Open Letter to “the Managers”

Dear Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (aka FLNRORD) :

Signals from some of your constituents tell a handful of us with an ear to the ground there has been considerable discussion between local residents of the Skeena area and your agency regarding the future allocation of angling opportunity on at least some of the internationally renowned steelhead streams you manage. Without being involved directly and not having any information disseminated from your office, those of us who do not happen to reside in the communities where these discussions are ongoing are shut out. That is not acceptable but it doesn’t dissuade me from offering some free advice anyway.

For years I have tried to convince you of steps that should and could be taken to address information deficiencies that have plagued decision makers and proliferated debates about what constitutes crowding and who is responsible for how much of that, where, when, etc. I’ll speak to that in greater detail below. The second point I find unconscionable that your staff has not pursued relates to a simple change to existing regulations that could have controlled what became a tsunami of guiding on all waters that weren’t classified in 1990. That’s now 28 years of self directed inertia that has allowed angling guides to dominate times and places where fish supplies should never have been subjected to such treatment and where resident anglers have been increasingly squeezed out of the picture.

To the subject of data that could address those prevailing myths about who and what constitutes crowding. There is a simple solution that could solve multiple problems. A mandatory permit for anyone – resident, non-resident, alien, guided or unguided – who fishes any classified water for any part of any day. Permits could be available on demand with no reservation required and no limit on the number of permits issued. The existing regulations around certain rivers being resident only opportunities on certain days could remain but residents in those situations would also be required to hold a permit. By the way, guides and assistant guides should be part of rod day quotas and permit requirements whenever they’re on the water.

The cost of a permit could easily be set at a level where enough revenue would accrue to put bona fide enforcement officers on the water in sufficient numbers and places to be a recognized deterrent to non-compliance. No “guardians” with exceedingly limited enforcement authority. I’m talking full meal deal enforcement personnel. The penalty for non-compliance would have to be substantial enough to convince transgressors it wasn’t worth it. How about several hundred dollars and/or cancellation of eligibility for future permits for a prescribed period?

A year or two of data compiled from permits would answer, once and for all, where, when and who was a “problem”. Those with an interest could review numbers and origins and start to address future allocation of opportunity on the strength of information no one could dispute. Issues like illegal guiding, bed and breakfast operations could be illuminated and dealt with effectively simply by limiting or eliminating the number of permits available to any such operation or its clients. A permit application system could follow if and when it is determined angling effort was in need of various forms of control.

The BC Parks reservation system and the BC Ferries reservation system are models that ought to be adaptable. After all, this is 2018 and technology reigns supreme. How hard would it be to set up the equivalent of a cell phone app to offer anglers all the access and flexibility needed to accomplish the desired end point?

On to my other hobby horse. The regulations governing classified waters and angling guides are included in what is known as BC Reg 125/90, The Angling and Scientific Collection Regulations. Those regs took effect in 1990 and they were developed to address the issues of the day. Those who wish to explore beyond what I say here can look up the details at:

The central item in terms of where we sit today is the flexibility of the statutory authority for issuing angling guide licenses to impose restrictions (i.e. “conditions”) on the holder of an angling guide license. Section 13 (3) of the regulation reads:

(3) If a regional manager issues an angling guide licence to an angling guide who holds angler day quota for a classified water, the regional manager may attach conditions to the angling guide licence in respect of the classified water that:

(a) limit

(i) the period of time during which,

(ii) the day of the week on which, and

(iii) the area in which the angling guide may guide for fish

The operative words here are underlined. Those words need to be eliminated and leave the statutory authority with the ability to place conditions on any angling guide licensee, not just those with rod day quotas and on classified waters. That simple amendment, brought to the attention of this government’s steelhead rivers managers on multiple occasions between the mid 1990s and today, has never been acted upon. The consequence has been an explosion of angling guiding on every unclassified river on which any qualified applicant wishes to ply his/her services. They can do that, unlimited, for the price of an annual angling guide license. No rod day fees, no additional fees for their clients, just an annual license that costs less than what guides charge for a single day of their services. How’s that for giving away public resources?

Over to you FLNRORD. Show us you’re in the steelhead sport fishery management game. Nineteen-ninety is a long way back in the rear view mirror. The regulations that made perfectly good sense at the time are long overdue for revision. Get out there and get the data that will facilitate intelligent option definition and decision making. Your guardian programs of years gone by were a complete failure. Please don’t try and sell the notion you’ve got reliable data already. You can’t even tell my how many assistant guides there are on any of your rivers at any point in time, nor can you retrieve appropriate data from the electronic data base you thought was going to answer every question immediately following its implementation. And, start looking seriously at how you are going to reclaim some of that unforgiveable handover of angling opportunity on all those unclassified waters long ignored. This isn’t rocket science and it doesn’t require years of consultation and the institutional inertia that goes with that. Create the tools to do the job. Get on with it while there may still be something salvageable. Do it for the other regions of the province also in need of a mechanism for controlling things like guides fishing out of jet boats forbidden to the rest of us. We’re waiting and watching.

Choices, choices…………..

Comments 14

  • I have long said everyone must be counted. Then you can decide who gets what. And you are right that the fees collected should be reinvested in boots on the ground or river so to speak.
    There are other management models available that could guide us to a made in B.C.solution.
    The guiding problems you talk about would also be addressed by a permit for everyone scenario. We have to know the true numbers.

  • As a non-resident alien from Oregon who watched our fishing go in the toilet, I applaud your effort. This will be my 11th year trying to catch one of BC’s wild steelhead in and around the Skeena. Having made many friends ( no one will adopt me ) including my favorite curmudgeon, Bryan Hebden, I love my trips north every year. During my time the pressure from guides seems much worse each year. I would support one day a week for only residents with no guiding of the likes of me, except on the Babine and Sustut. Bill Knight

  • Yep! Nothing like accountability!
    I’d like to see a little more transparency within the foreign operated guiding outfits and those that are so called B&B accommodations located within casting distance of the river under foreign ownership. The gross revenue of these operations need to be examined!
    Permits 100% agree!
    Back in the 90’s the NDP government at the time introduced the BCFPC ( British Columbia forest practice code) in that reading the word riparian zone was stated many times which indicated a setback from ANY aquifer connected to a fish bearing ( live vertebrae) waters and absolutely no defoiling or degradation was permitted. How many trails that have been developed since the late 90’s early 2000 that are 4×4 accessible do we see scaring the banks of not only the Bulkley but other major salmon/Steelhead rivers in BC!
    This also creates a grey area with the number of jet boats traveling back and forth numerous times a day. Sometimes by the same operator! Speed being a factor creating wakes in areas of high sensitivity with over hanging weighted banks which eventually under cuts the stability footprint. Then the rains come loads the top and down comes not only the soils but also every type of vegetation once anchored. Is this not also a source of degradation? It’s no different than Joe Logger running a skidder through a aquifer, or cutting a back spur trail above a watershed or high grading large Spruce between the riparian limit and the rivers edge. These guys faced up to hundreds of thousands of dollar in fines by the tree cops back in the day! Buts it’s ok for Mr&Mrs B&B or Guide Outfit or a non resident with a ton of money to slash, burn and excavation along a major river course so guest can have a view or easy private access.
    I ditto all of your point of view and motions to the fullest – get the boots on the ground – get the politicians off their asses and start taking a stand to do the right thing!
    Good read – it’s a sequel to the OK Coral coming out with Guns a Blazing!

  • Well said Bob
    Seems the ones in charge worry about hurting feelings. The fish are the priority all humans stand in line behind. If your practices endanger the future of the fish or the experience of others being on the water change must happen or be left out.
    Stand up for what is right.

  • Alas, one more result of the commodification of sport fishing. One only has to read the commentary on proposed no-floating regulations proposed for certain rivers in Oregon to realize how inflamed, even savage, the debate can be. I have a – mildly tongue in cheek -solution for the Bulkley and Morice. Anglers, guided or otherwise, might only fish on the left bank and those afoot could have the right bank all to themselves. (Handily, the road for the most part parallels the right bank.) They can on occasion wave to each other, being brothers of the Angle (that ancient and companionable order of sportsmen).

  • To clarify, I meant boating anglers, guided or not, could fish the river from the left bank while the more pedestrian could do their sport from the right bank. Never to meet in the middle. Well, at least the much harassed fish could find some respite in the wilder stretches along the right bank. Oh, and how about big registration number on all guide boats – all boats. I would welcome some research on what impact of hyper-intense angling has on spawning outcomes.

    • An interesting and unique suggestion Frank. Thank you. I wonder how those familiar with the Bulkley view this. Hopefully we’ll hear from a few.

      The identification of guide boats was mandatory back in my early days in Smithers. We did that, not because we were singling out guides, but because the prevailing mythology was that everyone in a boat was a guide. That sort of perception often surfaces today. It would make perfectly good sense to require all boats to bear highly visible identification that puts to rest doubts about who they belong to and/or operates them. Readily enforceable too if the appropriate regulation was developed. Could also be a useful avenue to pursue with respect to limiting boat use without having to rely on federal government navigable waters regulations which are a nightmare to deal with. Hey FLNRORD, Smithers, anyone home?

  • These would of been all great suggestions and implemented 30 years ago.

    unfortunately steelhead numbers have crashed and now is the time to ban all angling on steelhead across the province until such time that they have recovered enough.

    I’m sure after your recent meeting in langley Bob that you herd from lots in the angling community.

    But even the prized Chilliwack/vedder looks like they may not even get enough brod stock This year. A angler even reported catching the same steelhead 3 times in 1 day.

    Steelhead are far to aggressive and to easy to catch. Sure there the fish of a thousands casts but if there was a thousand of them in one area they would be the fish of every cast.

    Let’s protect these fish! (My generation) Millennials will never be on board as long as recreational fisheries still harvest these amazing fish.

    • We’re preaching to the choir Matt. As said, where are the people we have invested our tax dollars in to manage our steelhead? What does it take to get their attention? I’m not talking about the operational level staff here. They have become victims too. I’m talking those who supposedly direct them, all the way from their oval offices in the various regions right through the hierarchy to downtown Victoria.

      • Sorry Bob Im young, I’m just so fired up about this!, I’ve wrote letters to everyone i can think of, I’ve started to use my social media to let people know! I just Joined the local SFAC. The biggest trout i’ve caught is like 12 inches and then there are these majestic beasts steelhead that grow up to 20 pounds in good ocean conditions! I’m Mystified! I have two young boys will they get to see these steelhead! I want to plant the preverbal tree so steelhead can start to recover for them!

        DFO passed the buck to our province and now our province blames there lack of action on DFO. Please someone in management do something!

  • I appreciate your response Bob. We need novel ideas. There is a precedent for social separation of river anglers, in that the left bank of the Lochy (Scotland) is reserved for fly only. My proposal could reduce conflict, allow for identification of boating anglers and provide zones where the fish can find respite from the angling barrage. There may be other benefits for fishery regulation. This more about finding solutions than it is about targeting any group. Boating and drifting are fine so long as a reasonable balance is struck. Otherwise it becomes a circus, where threats are rife, peace and quiet are regularly shattered and the fish find no escape.


    Did DFO just take over steelhead?

    Before changes:

    “protection for commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishers”

    After changes:

    “Protection for all fish and fish habitat”

    Overall great changes coming, long over due after Harper decimated it in 2012.

    • Talk is cheap, it takes money to buy Whiskey. We will have to wait and see how the implementation of Minister LeBlanc’s announcement rolls out. On surface it all sounds great but I think it safe to say these sorts of things are heavy to politics and public image and perceptions. The jury is out on how fish and fish habitat will do. Anything is better than what we were left with by PM Harper though, so we’ll give this one a chance to prove its worth. There is no separating steelhead habitat from habitat frequented by those other five species we know and love so I’m not concerned that DFO is making any move to adopt freshwater steelhead fishery management. They’ve got enough grief to deal with already!

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