by Alex Rinfret-Prince Rupert’s $100,000-plus coho derby came under fire from regional district directors when they met in Masset Friday afternoon (Aug. 18).
Directors said the six-week derby targets the wrong fish and takes place over far too long a period, and had many questions about how such an event ever got approved.
The derby is being run by Tourism Prince Rupert with money handed to the northern region from the provincial government. The $450,000 was meant to help the area attract tourists despite the loss of the Queen of the North. (Not all of it is being spent on the derby; one chunk is paying for brochures promoting the islands to be sent to Alaska.)
But some regional district directors said the money could have been better spent on other things, and wondered why they weren’t consulted.
Des Nobels, a former commercial fisherman who represents Area A on the mainland, said the derby could have targetted a less vulnerable fish, could have taken place over a shorter period of time, and could have offered prizes for mystery weights rather than the biggest fish.
Area C director Karl Bergman said commercial fishermen will be the ones who suffer as a result of the derby.
“The reality is, it could have been a frigging treasure hunt in Prince Rupert’s garbage dump for the $100,000,” he said. “It didn’t have to be the coho.”
But Prince Rupert mayor Herb Pond said it would be unrealistic to expect Tourism Prince Rupert and the Northern Fund Management Committee to have consulted with the regional district, because the decision how to spend the money had to be made so quickly.
“It was tourism money and they consulted with tourism groups,” he said, adding that the group did not talk to the city of Prince Rupert about the derby either. “This does not mean I think there was enough consultation, I want to be really clear.”
The directors eventually focused their concerns on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, saying they wondered why that agency had given the derby the green light.
“The regulatory role falls to DFO, in my mind,” Mr. Pond said. “I tend to throw it back towards the regulator.”
Mr. Nobels said he questioned DFO managers’ competence, saying he’d heard that they didn’t realize until long afterwards that it would be a six-week derby rather than a one-weekend event.
Directors voted to send a letter to the DFO, outlining their concerns and asking why it had approved the derby.
However, Steven Groves, section head for salmon at the DFO office in Prince Rupert, told the Observer this week that fishing derbies do not require any special approvals, from DFO or any other agency.
Mr. Groves said the derby organizers did consult with DFO about their plans.
“They asked us if it would be okay if they had a derby,” he said. “They talked to us about coho stock strength and whether it could sustain a derby… They don’t have to, but it was a good idea.”
It’s a good idea to consult because DFO does have the power to lower the four-per-day limit on recreational coho if it believes too many fish are being caught, Mr. Groves explained. DFO also has the power to eliminate a recreational fishery altogether.
In this case, he said, DFO assured the derby organizers that they didn’t believe any limit action would have to be taken during the event. Coho limits in Chatham Sound at the moment are four per day, with a possession limit of eight.
“We’re confident that the extra pressure won’t cause any conservation concern,” he said.
Tourism Prince Rupert has agreed to pay for a creel survey throughout the event, he said, and provide the data from that to DFO. The creel survey counts how many fish are being caught.
“We’re certainly watching the situation closely,” he added.
Coho stocks have been a concern in the past and DFO believes they are rebuilding, he said. In fact, there is no commercial coho fishery allowed in Chatham Sound, where the derby is taking place, due to stock concerns.
But Mr. Groves said the number of fish caught recreationally is small, even with a derby, compared to a commercial fishery. Also, DFO considers coho and chinook primarily recreational fish, while pink, chum and sockeye are primarily commercial.
Mr. Groves did admit that he was taken aback when he learned the derby would be six weeks long and have a $100,000 top prize. Those details had not been part of the initial discussions DFO managers had with organizers.
“We were surprised,” he said. “That did catch us a little off guard, in terms of the length and the prizes.”
However, even given these factors, the derby is not causing a conservation concern, he said.
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