A popular salmon fishing competition in Campbell River is cancelled this year following recently announced limits on the recreational chinook fishery, but organizers say it will be back next year.
By the time Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced the new caps in mid-April, it was too late to reschedule the event, which was slated for June 8, said Stephen Grant, owner of the realty firm Royal LePage Advance, which runs the annual Salmon Derby.
“We have so many things that we have to organize,” he said. “Locations for one, stages, overhead tents, all that type of stuff.”
He added that organizers don’t want to overlap with other community events already planned for later in the summer, when the chinook sports fishery opens. The next Salmon Derby will likely take place in August 2020, he said.
New chinook conservation measures include a zero-retention policy lasting until mid-July in coastal waters around Campbell River. DFO said the limits are urgently needed to protect wild salmon populations that are in a long-term state of decline.
Grant said he supports the policies if they are necessary to prevent a collapse of wild chinook stocks.
“I just hope the decision was based on solid evidence, not opinions,” he said. “If it’s necessary, I’m fully in favour of it to save the fishery. And we’ll do what we have to do, but Campbell River’s a fishing community, commercial and sport. There’s a lot of families and businesses that are going to be affected.”
Grant co-founded the event in 2016 with two other Royal LePage realtors, Deanna Collins and Mark Ranniger, reviving a tradition of big salmon derbies that were a staple in Campbell River decades ago.
At the event, anglers competed to land the biggest fish, with last year’s grand prize being a 12-foot boat, complete with a motor and trailer.
The event raised $165,000 for two local charities during its three-year run, namely the North Island Transition Society and the Campbell River Salmon Foundation, according to organizers.
Collins said that organizers took steps to reduce the ecological impact of the event, including a catch-and-release competition with prizes.
On the day of the Salmon Derby, organizers would broadcast updates from the weigh-in, on radio and social media, in order to discourage anglers from bringing in smaller fish that wouldn’t qualify for a prize.
They also opted to forego so-called “hidden weight” events – involving prizes for fish weighing a certain amount – or “aggregate weight” events, which award the largest total haul.
Those events kill more fish because “people are just out there bonking every fish, and entering all the fish,” Collins said.
Of the roughly 700 anglers who signed up, about one-tenth brought their catches to the weigh-in, she said.
“We only ever weighed in maybe 70 fish.”
In the Johnstone Strait and northern Strait of Georgia, fishers cannot keep any chinook until July 15, according to DFO’s new policy, which varies by region.
The limit is then one chinook per day until Aug. 30, when it rises to two per day until Dec. 31, the historical year-round limit. The total annual catch is limited to 10 per person compared to 30 previously.
While the new restrictions apply specifically to chinook, Grant said that switching to other species would risk putting excessive pressure on those stocks.
“It’s a very careful balancing act,” he said.
He also noted that chinook are the species best known as prize fish.
“They’re called kings by the Americans for a reason,” he said. “They get the biggest and they’re most sought-after.”
When the new limits were announced on April 16, DFO said factors contributing to the long-term decline of chinook populations included habitat destruction, harvest and the effects of climate change.