25-year-old salmon derby cancelled

Local economy will likely suffer with loss of popular derby

One of the largest derbies in B.C. will be cancelled for the first time in 25 years due to late notification from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on fishery restrictions in the Juan de Fuca Strait.

George Wetherell, president of the Juan de Fuca Invitational Salmon Championship Society, said this year’s derby, scheduled for Father’s Day weekend on July 17-18, has been cancelled due to a lack of time and uncertainty.

“Unfortunately, we had to cancel our event because we’re running out of time to get everything organized,” Wetherell said.

He said the society could not produce $20,000 worth of hats, shirts, regulation books, and tickets for the derby without knowing the chinook fishery status for the summer.

“There’s just so many things to do that I can’t leave all those businesses and people involved with the event to the last minute,” he said.

And with ticket sales slated for May 14, Wetherell said the society needed to know whether or not the retention of large chinook salmon would be permitted by mid-April at the latest.

He met with DFO on a few occasions and sent letters regarding the chinook fishery, but received no updates.

“I’ve waited and waited and agonized over it (the derby),” he said, but added an event of that magnitude could not be planned within a few weeks time.

“This derby is a first class event, always has been. And if we can’t do it right, we can’t do it at all.”

In prior years, the DFO has opened fishing for large salmon at midnight on the day of the derby. A move that may still happen, but announced too late.

“Chances are they could do the same,” Wetherell said, but he added a decision on the chinook fishery should have been made in January.

“I can’t throw my business, and my family life into chaos and try to slam together an event this huge because of time appropriated to me by the DFO.”

Last year the derby saw 700 entrants come into town from all over the province, Washington State and Ontario, bringing in $400,000 to the local economy.

The invitational has had such steady attendance, that the waiting list was thrown out, after no spaces opened up over the past 10 years.

“Seven hundred people will be really disappointed when they hear the news, and they’ll have to find something else to do for Father’s Day after 25 years,” Wetherell said.

Over the years, approximately $200,000 from the derby have been donated to salmon enhancement and restoration, with the main benefactor being The Pacific Salmon Foundation.

“We put way more fish back in the streams than we’re taking out,” he said.

Wetherell, 62, is a co-founder for the event and has maintained his position as president since the derby’s institution 25 years ago.

“It’s kind of been my little baby watching it grow,” he said. “I’m still working, I run a construction company, and I have a family life. You don’t want to let the baby go, but sometimes you don’t have control over things.”

According to Wetherell, there may be a derby next year.

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