(File photo)

Guidelines for recreational fishing expected this week

Travel bans will challenge businesses in fisheries already hurt by low stocks

Businesses tied to the Northwest recreational fishing sector will get a clearer idea this week of how they might navigate the season amidst an economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Wednesday (May 6), B.C. Premier John Horgan unveiled a plan for reopening the province in stages, and in preparation of this the B.C. Sports Fishing Institute has been working with other stakeholders to establish some behaviour protocols and guidelines for public fishery service providers. This includes input from fishing lodges, guides, charter operators, transportation providers and anglers themselves on how tourism and recreational fishing can open up while still respecting hygiene and distancing measures. These recommendations have been submitted to the province.

“We worked with the tourism sector to design the protocols and guidelines with the idea that the restrictions would eventually be relaxed a little, and now we need those to be approved by Dr. Henry,” SFI executive director, Owen Bird, said. “As we understand it, the province is working hard to analyze and vet these various proposals.”

Work on the protocols has been going on in the background since mid-April.

“There are also shared elements to this, with things like food services,” Bird said. “We won’t develop that, but rely on the expertise of the accommodations sector — so now we can go to the Province and say we’ve got industry designed criteria for fishing activities, we’ve got industry designed recommendations for accommodation and food service, and we’ve got the overarching guidelines for physical distancing that everyone should be aware of.”

Fishing was added to the province’s list of essential services in late April, but international travel bans and advisories to stay close to home domestically will continue to impact businesses who rely on tourism for their survival.

Gill McKean, owner of Westcoast Fishing Adventures in Terrace is doubtful anything can be done this year to save the recreational fishing season already suffering from low salmon returns and imminent closures.

“It’s like taking the main artery of the heart and chopping it off,” he said by telephone. “First of all we don’t have any air travel, and secondly the borders are all closed, even for drive-in traffic. That halted everything, understandably with the pandemic going on they need to do that. They stopped people from even Alberta from coming in, and then stopped us from fishing with anyone outside of our immediate family. If you’re a fishing guide, or have anything to do with tourism, you’re dead in the water.”

McKean added he and other guides had received non-refundable deposits prior to the pandemic, but unfortunately, his clients are telling him their travel insurance specifically exempts coverage on trip cancellations due to pandemics.

“So they’re not getting their money back, and for us you have to keep in mind we’re not getting rich off these deposits either. Basically they’re there to keep you going through the winter, to pay the bills, pays for a little advertising and basically just keeps the wolves away from the door.”

Travel and socializing restrictions will add to an already grim outlook for the recreational salmon fishing season in the Northwest. A draft of the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan indicates low Chinook returns will call for conservation measures similar to 2018, which saw widespread closures on all species.

Whatever restrictions DFO puts down, Bird is confident the province will get as many people out fishing for allowable stocks as soon as safely possible. He is cautious to reveal any details on what the guidelines might look like but expects to see a provincially-approved plan this week.

“We want to be extremely cautious in terms of revealing these guidelines ahead of what the provincial recommendations will be. We need to have the public’s confidence, business confidence, employee confidence, operators confidence that we’re not jeopardizing the great progress B.C. has made.

“This will be a … made-in-B.C. tourism season, in all regards for both clients and business. What we hope is there will be an interest from people to get out fishing. As the summer progresses and the restrictions relax maybe they can go further afield. The hope is it will be reasonable that they can visit a resort in a remote area.”

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