Fish catch ban plan draws fire

A PROPOSAL to ban the harvest of trout and char caught in area rivers and streams in favour of catch and release only is being opposed by area anglers who say it would violate traditions of parents teaching their children how to catch, dress, and cook fish.

What’s worse, the anglers add, is that the proposal was quietly posted on a government website for a public comment period of Dec. 13-31 last year, right in the middle of the Christmas holiday season.

The proposal as posted on the forests, lands and natural resource operations website, states that the “Skeena Region requires a more precautionary approach to management of trout/char. The proposal change is to set regional angling harvest quotas of trout/char to zero. From this baseline, water-specific risks associated with harvest will be evaluated, with retention quotas re-applied where appropriate.”

The quota now for the retention of trout and char is two per day, with only one over 50 cm and none under 30 cm. If the proposal goes through, the changes would apply to the Kitimat, Skeena, Nass, Stikine, and Dease River drainages. Lakes in the region with wild trout and char populations would not be affected and keeping fish would still be allowed in those waters.

“Right now, the proposal is to put the brakes on it,” said Mark Beere, a senior Smithers-based provincial fisheries biologist of the current catch rule for rivers and streams. “But I don’t know where that’s heading in terms of approval and whether or not that’s the kind of thing that Victoria would be interested in or not,” he said of the ban plan, noting that the final decision will be made down south.

The proposal “really originated from proposals in Terrace at our angling advisory committee meeting, where people said we’re not seeing larger trout and char in the Kalum, Lakelse and the Copper River like we used to. If you go north or places where there isn’t much out there, then you start to see lots, and large fish, but not so much in and around [the Terrace area],” he said.

There are also worries that accelerated industrial development which will harm fish habitat and also cause over-fishing.

“Vancouver Island did the same thing, so did Peace-Omineca,” said Beere, noting that there simply aren’t enough provincial fisheries officials to assess each and every stream, hence the precautionary approach.

“Trying to get assessment data is almost impossible – if we did one stream we’re looking at maybe 10 or 20 times what our budget is,” he said.

Although Dec. 31, 2012 was to be the end of the comment period, Beere said comments are still being accepted online or through provincial fish and wildlife offices.

Right now, about 80 per cent of those comments have been in favour of the proposal, said Beere.

But the 20 per cent against have been “really vocal,” he said. “Some people just want to catch a fish for Thanksgiving dinner and not catch 20.”

One local angler opposing the change, Don Coburn, has been circulating information about the proposal and a second angler, Mike Scott, has placed a petition at a number of area businesses.

“The everyday person and their families are now expected to go and camp at a lake in the summertime and eat fish that are silty tasting or even possibly wormy due to the warmer water temperatures,” said Scott.

But those in favour of the proposal disagree, saying that years of harvesting without limits means that fishermen no longer have the right to kill certain fish and that catch and release region-wide will make a big difference in improving fish stocks.

“Limit your kill, not kill your limit,” said Rob Brown, a steelhead angler who has sat on a number of fishing advisory bodies, including the one which came up with the catch ban proposal.

“Nothing in the ministry’s proposal prevents anyone from going fishing, it simply disallows the killing of increasingly vulnerable fish in streams. Fishers can still whack coho, chinook, pinks, and sockeye as well as trout and char in lakes.

“Anglers in other parts of the world would be ecstatic to have such an opportunity,” said Brown.


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