Ryan Chamberlain of Vancouver Island Lodge says that he would love to speak to environmental groups regarding salmon restoration and conservation. (Tim Collins / Sooke News Mirror)

DFO salmon decision could impact Sooke charter business

The industry has a significant economic impact on the region

Operators of local fishing charters are on tenterhooks after receiving an email Saturday morning from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans regarding the 2019 conservation measures for chinook salmon.

The emailed document, entitled “Update on Recovery Measures for Southern Resident Killer Whale – Overview of Measures for 2019”, lays out two potential scenarios that will have potentially devastating impacts on the local Salmon Charter business in Sooke and Port Refrew.

In total, the decisions on the matter will affect some 900 jobs in the charter industry and $1.1 billion in economic activity, according to Owen Bird of the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C.

A significant part of that economic impact occurs in Sooke.

“There are about 25 fishing charter operators in the area and, like me, they do a lot to drive the local economy,” said Ryan Chamberlain, the owner of Vancouver Island Lodge in Sooke.

“Sooke and Port Renfrew’s economies have depended upon the sport fishing industry for decades. For the majority of our hotels, restaurants, marine retailers, and marinas it has brought that extra income needed to be a sustainable business year in, year out. With the federal government now taking access and opportunity away to the sport fishing community to look like they are doing something for the salmon and whales, they are just breaking the hearts of the stakeholder group that are actually doing what is needed which is salmon enhancement in our watersheds.”

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The latest email comes in the wake of an earlier, Feb. 5 letter sent out to sport fishing operators by DFO that expressed concerns over the declining stocks of chinook salmon and offered up two scenarios to address the situation.

Following the release of the letter, a series of consultations and lobbying efforts by recreational sport fish operators took place to point out some of the problems with that approach.

“There is a lot of uncertainty right now, although the lack of a timely announcement isn’t all that unusual,” Bird said.

“One option would pretty much stop the activity of the sport fishing industry, while the other is allowing an opportunity for the industry to continue.”

The difference to the salmon between the two options, said Bird, is negligible.

“The bottom line is that politics and optics are at play. Conservation of the Chinook has a complex range of problems, but in this case, the difference to the industry is profound while the conservation factor is negligible,” he said.

“Sport fishing charters take the brunt of the regulations but, frankly, it has little impact on conservation. The juice is simply not worth the squeeze.”

The latest missive from DFO similarly sets out two options under consideration but this time it’s Scenario #1 that all fishing would be closed from Sheringham Point to East Point( Port Renfrew). The remaining areas including the Swiftsure would remain the same as last year. Although a 1-kilometre buffer would prevail through the areas, the policy goes further and states that the Swiftsure Bank closure would be a “no go” zone.

The second option, Scenario #2 states that all fishing would be closed from Otter Point to East Point, most of the productive areas of the Swiftsure Bank including the Southside would be closed, and the Swiftsure Bank would be a “no go” area.

Mike Hicks, the CRD Regional Director for Juan de Fuca, said that the second option would have a devastating effect for Sooke and Port Renfrew.

“I am asking all residents of the Juan de Fuca electoral area and the District of Sooke to read the proposals and, if you agree that some fishing should take place, e-mail DFO.SRKW-ERS.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca and express your support for scenario A with an amendment to remove the No Go zone on the Swiftsure,” wrote Hicks in a letter to the Sooke News Mirror.

“Past history illustrates that these closures will be permanent. We only have a couple of weeks to engage and I truly hope you will join me in helping our fishers, neighbours, and our community.”

Rollie Rose, the owner of Sooke Salmon Charters Ltd., has been operating his business since 1986.

“I’m looking forward to the day that the government is doing something constructive (to preserve salmon stocks),” Rose said.

“Where there has been any success, it’s come from little groups like the Juan de Fuca Salmon Restoration Society in Sooke doing it themselves. I’m a part of that group and we work on stream restoration, hatcheries, all the things that make a difference.”

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Rose said that his season has shrunk considerably and that his business and the economic benefit it provides is at risk due to a confused approach by the government.

As for the environmental groups pushing the closures, Chamberlain has a simple message.

“I want to take these groups out on my boat so they can see first hand the way we fisherman have such little impact, I’ve reached out and they just don’t respond.”

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