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Angling club opposes river closures



Three popular rivers could be out of bounds to anglers this fall if a sport fishing advisory committee for the region – which includes representatives from the province and Fisheries and Oceans Canada as well as representatives from local stewardship groups and clubs – decides that fish populations are vulnerable.

The Whistler Angling Club supports any closures or restrictions that are supported by local groups, but only if there are no other alternatives.

"We are wondering if this will result in any permanent closures," says Whistler Angling Club director and fishing guide Tom Cole. "We didn’t want to say ‘just close them’, but we’ll accept the closures as a last resort.

"You don’t want to lose any water but if it comes down to these guys telling you there’s only 20 of any kind of fish in there and we don’t want them disturbed. Plus we’ve always believed you should accept what the local club’s wishes are."

As a result, the Whistler Angling Club wrote a letter to Fisheries and Oceans Canada supporting conservation measures but strongly encouraging "the use of alternative initiatives that provide some (be it restrictive) angling opportunities rather than outright closures or bans."

The Pemberton Sportmen’s Wildlife Association is once again recommending that the upper part of the Birkenhead River, above the Bailey Bridge on the D’Arcy Road, be closed to anglers during the spawning season, from August to September. Other clubs are recommending closures for the upper Cheakamus and Mamquam river systems.

This is the second year that the PSWA has made that recommendation, although last year they settled for a ban on everything except fly fishing, which hooks trout but doesn’t affect the sensitive local population of Chinook salmon.

"Last year our suggestion got watered down a bit, no pun intended, to fly fishing only instead of a total closure of the river," says Hugh Naylor, a representative of the PSWA. "We’ve been talking with everyone, including the Whistler Club. Later this year when the regulations have to be established, our club is once again recommending this total closure. We feel we’re in a good position to make recommendations for this particular system, it’s our backyard and we know quite a bit about it."

While last year saw a better than average run of Chinook, the average is not that high, "just sort of marginal numbers to sustain itself," says Naylor. "It’s a very unique run. Through DNA sampling they’ve established that it’s a very vulnerable stock that is low in genetic diversity. There’s no genetic flexibility there. If it has a problem with flooding or overfishing, it has a great deal of difficulty recovering from it."

Some guides do use the Birkenhead above the Bailey Bridge because of its accessibility, but Naylor feels the potential risks to the local stocks exceed the limited commercial benefits of the river.

The Sport Fishing Advisory Committee can make recommendations to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which will make its final decisions this spring.