Greater Victoria anglers are taking their boats to the water on July 29, poles up and lines down. With hook-less lines, they’re not trying to lure fish: they’re drawing attention to what they call an unfair fishing ban.
In late spring the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced a ban on harvesting any fin fish from Otter Point in Sooke to East Point, near Port Renfrew, a stretch of approximately 50 kilometres extended from the shoreline to U.S. waters.
The ban went into effect June 1 and lasts until Sept. 30.
Glen Varney, a volunteer fish culturist and former DFO employee, said local fishing advocates, including the Sport Fishing Advisory Board and the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition, had been in discussion with the DFO in late spring about upcoming closures. At the time, the DFO had announced they wanted it to run from East Point to Sheringham Point.
“We said ‘Hey, let’s reduce that area a bit and they seemed to be fine,” Varney said. “Then the minister said ‘nope we’re going to take it to Otter Point.’ We had no consultation as to why, and no reasoning behind the decision.”
The extension from Sheringham to Otter Point adds approximately seven kilometres to the closure areas, and the fin fish ban means everything from salmon to halibut to ling cod is off the table. The decision was made in an attempt to preserve the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, which is on the endangered species list.
A DFO representative told the News the choices were made to preserve the chinook salmon population, which makes up much of the whales’ diet, and to decrease noise disturbances in the area.
Involved with salmon enhancement for 27 years, Varney said last year alone over 500,000 salmon were released into Sooke Harbour. “A lot of the fishermen volunteer at salmon enhancement sites. But why bother doing enhancement work if we’re just going to be closed down?”
On top of that, he added, orcas don’t actually eat halibut or bottom-feeding fish, so the blanket ban didn’t make sense.
|The fishing ban spans the area from Otter Point to East Point, near Port Renfrew. DFO
“It feels like being stabbed in the back,” said Bruce Webber, a retired commercial fisherman and protest organizer. “I sustain my personal family with fish, it’s a big part of our diet. It’s been that way my whole life.”
He also noted that Sooke has been hit economically.
“It’s not just us fishermen, it’s the people visiting the hotels, the B&Bs and restaurants, those buying gas for the boats,” Webber said. “They’re throwing money away, tourists are not coming.”
Mike Hicks, Capital Regional District director for the Juan de Fuca electoral area and a former fishing guide, agreed the broad ban was a hurtful move for local anglers and businesses.
“Their frustrations are totally warranted,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense, there hasn’t been a conversation.”
When he asked the DFO why the ban included halibut and bottom feeding fish, Hicks said he was told there weren’t enough enforcement resources to ensure those on the water weren’t fishing for salmon.
Hicks argued that halibut fishing requires completely different equipment and techniques than salmon fishing. “That stretch is a constant source of tremendous halibut fishing for local guides and … they have to anchor their boats. There’s no noise, they’re not making noise at all.”
The DFO representative said commuting to and from the sites would still create noise, noting that halibut fishing remains open for commercial operators and First Nations.
While Hicks said it was too late for him to step in at Otter Point, he reached out to politicians when the DFO proposed a similar ban near Tofino from Swiftsure to La Paruse Banks. As a result, Premier John Horgan wrote to the Minister of Fisheries, supporting local anglers and saying the process taken by the DFO “left many stakeholders questioning the value of engaging in such a process.”
The Tofino area’s decision was put off until winter, when less anglers are on the water.
Webber said his Facebook posts about the upcoming protest have been shared over 700 times and he hopes to see over 100 boats on the water next Sunday near Sheringham Point.
“Just being there is not against any rule or violation, if someone wants to. If Fisheries wants to be bullish, they can come check us and it will be fine.”