By Cassidy Muir
With summer fast approaching, Tourism Smithers invited local stakeholders and business owners to Frontier Farwest Lodge on May 9 to discuss the tourism industry.
Among the night’s talking points was the recent closure of recreational salmon fishing in the Skeena and Nass Rivers. The decision comes from predictions of low returns and an increased emphasis on conservation.
“There’s definitely been a decline in salmon populations, especially in chinook salmon,” observed Peter Krause, owner and operator of McBike and Sport. “We’ve been seeing it as tackle retailers — and fishing on the river ourselves — for probably five to 10 years. It’s definitely hit home in this last year, too.”
Deputy mayor of Smithers and Tourism Smithers’ Gladys Atrill echoed this sentiment, stating, “I think we all knew that the closure was coming, and what we don’t know is how long it will last, or the severity of the impacts, or what next year will be.”
The closure does not come as a surprise to many involved in local fishing, and some have expressed frustration that action did not come sooner.
“We’re at a crossroads now where they’re making huge adjustments to the fishing industry as far as keeping fish, or not being able to fish at all,” said Krause. “I think if they would have made adjustments five or 10 years ago we wouldn’t be in as bad of a situation as we are right now.”
For many, concern does not appear to be focused on the potential economic impact of the closure, but rather the impact on people’s personal experiences.
“Fishing is more than just going out there and trying to catch a fish, it’s a big social thing,” explained Alex Bussmann of Oscar’s Fly & Tackle. “It’s all about hanging out together as a family or a group of people, friends. And when such drastic restrictions are put in place, it kind of breaks that up. I think it’s huge for our area, for locals that enjoy going out there and love what they do.”
“It’s more about the quality than the quantity,” Krause said about salmon fishing, citing over 20 years of experience camping along the Skeena River. “We hope in the next five or 10 years that adjustments get made so that that will be part of our future, and that our grandchildren can experience those things.”
Many business owners are prepared to adjust accordingly in the event of a prolonged closure.
“It’s not a total surprise,” Atrill said. “So some businesses have taken actions to the best of their ability in trying to figure out how they’re going to accommodate clients, perhaps with alternate product.”
“We’re totally willing to take the hit financially if it’s for the better of the fish,” said Bussmann. “And I really hope the DFO [Fisheries and Oceans Canada] will do it right, and maybe ask everyone to give up a little bit of something.”
The length of the closure is undetermined for now, but those involved in the local tourism industry are prepared for whatever comes next. Stakeholders and business owners are maintaining a general philosophy of cooperation and enthusiasm as summer tourists begin to arrive in Smithers.