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What is Sea to Sky fish guiding worth to the local economy?

Corridor guides create Sea to Sky Fishing Guides Economic Study in an effort to get more sway with DFO.

Fishing guide Yos Gladstone, of Chromer Sport Fishing, says that the value guiding brings to the Sea to Sky — both socially and economically — is sometimes overlooked.

He and other guides argue that feedback from angling guides should be better considered by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and other authorities when fishing regulations are drafted.

Gladstone points to the recently published Sea to Sky Fishing Guides Economic Study, by Big River Analytics, which Gladstone and other local angling guides commissioned.

It concludes that the “economic benefits of guided angling in the Sea to Sky region are relatively high compared to its impacts on populations of coho and chum, spring steelhead, pink salmon and other fish. This is largely due to the sustainable, catch-and-release model of guided angling, and its growing popularity as a tourism sport in the Sea to Sky.”

The study shows that in the Sea to Sky Corridor, guided angling, on average, is worth more than $1.5 million per year in domestic output, just under $850,000 in annual GDP, and over $450,000 in labour income B.C.

The study covered the years 2016 to 2019. Guiding supplied at least 14 jobs in 2019 in the Sea to Sky.

“Relative to the impact on fish, the economic benefits are high,” reads the report.

“Assuming a 10% mortality rate, one coho or chum killed through incidental mortality results in an average of $11,659 of domestic output, $6,596 of GDP, $305.72 of net taxes, $3,752 of labour income, $2,588 of gross operating surplus, and $502 of international imports across Canada.”

According to Gladstone, the guiding study was borne out of frustration in October 2020 when there was mass confusion among anglers, even serious guides like himself, regarding the DFO’s salmon fishing regulations for the Squamish River and its tributaries, including the Mamquam and Cheakamus rivers.

It turned out that on the Squamish River and its tributaries, anglers could not target chum salmon, only hatchery-clipped coho salmon.

This was an unprecedented closure.

“In the midst of a pandemic, during a time where the B.C. tourism industry had all but been decimated, this was a blow we could have done without,” Gladstone wrote on his blog.

“Fishing for chum salmon has long been a popular pastime on the Squamish River, for locals and visitors. Up until 2021, public access to fisheries was open until closed. Now things had changed. Fisheries were closed until open, a huge policy shift from within DFO,” he wrote.

This was the first time in his 20-year history of guiding in the Sea to Sky Corridor that anglers were not allowed to target chum salmon, he said.

While he agrees chum numbers have declined over the years, he felt the DFO was not using science and data, but instead falling back on only anecdotal information.

“When the government makes decisions on anecdotal information and not on science or quantitative data, there is a reason to be worried. The same issue has plagued BC’s south coast saltwater chinook salmon fishery, seeing it closed for much of the year, with little explanation to why.”

Gladstone said that most guides catch and release rather than retain fish, but not even catch and release was allowed.

Thus, the anglers thought perhaps a study that shows the value of keeping sport fishing opportunities could sway the powers that be to curtail closures.

For the study, Big River Analytics staff crunched the numbers from the books and catch reports of Gladstone’s Chromer Sport Fishing; Valley Fishing Guides, operated by Clint Goyette; Pacific Angler, operated by Jason Tonelli; Whistler Fishing Guides, operated by Brian Leighton, and Pemberton Fish Finder operated by Brad Knowles.

Gladstone plans to circulate the study to local MPs and MLAs, as well as to politicians outside of the local area who have been proponents of the recreational fishing industry.

It will also be circulated to Tourism Squamish, Tourism Whistler and Tourism Vancouver, he said.

Catch and release

Gladstone told The Chief that as much as anyone, guides want to maintain healthy fish stocks; it is their livelihoods and passion after all, he said.

Catch and release can be done with relatively little impact, he said.

“Employing mindful fishing techniques, such as the use of single barbless hooks, using flies and lures (not bait) and proper fish handling practices all lower the mortality rate within a catch and release fishery,” he said.  

“Public education in this is key, we would love to see some better provincial information on handling fish … I think regardless of the activity you are enjoying, there is going to be varying impacts environmentally, whether it is mountain biking or snowmobiling or rock climbing. Some greater than others.”

What do guides want?

Firstly, Gladstone said he would like to see greater enforcement and presence from both the federal DFO and the provincial Conservation Officers Service (COS).

“The Sea to Sky Corridor is understaffed, in my opinion, and only getting busier. COs are often busy with animal interaction calls and their on-river presence is rare at best. DFO, after implementing the chum closure last year and after claiming they were going to ramp up enforcement, was rarely seen through the fall salmon season.”

For its part, regarding enforcement, the DFO told The Chief that the Squamish Field Office has three full-time officers and is part of the Steveston Detachment.

The Squamish's office's enforcement is "frequently augmented and supplemented" by officers from that detachment, a spokesperson for the DFO said in an emailed statement. 

"Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a mandate to protect and conserve marine resources and to prosecute offenders under the Fisheries Act. It ensures and promotes compliance with the Act and other laws and regulations through comprehensive enforcement methods, including aerial, at sea, river, on-the-ground, night and covert patrols to monitor for illegal activity, as well as education and awareness activities," the spokesperson said.

"The department provides robust enforcement services for Howe Sound, including integrated patrols by fishery officers from Steveston, the Lower Fraser, the Sunshine Coast, and through concentrated enforcement blitzes. In the month of August, fishery officers from Steveston joined with Squamish fishery officers to conduct a weekend enforcement blitz. The previous week, Fraser Valley West fishery officers joined up with Squamish detachment fishery officers to augment their targeted enforcement activities."

[The Chief reached out to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, which is in charge of the conservation office, but did not receive a direct response to Gladstone’s assertion that there is a shortage of COs.

“DFO regulates the oversight of federal jurisdiction — salmon. Whereas COS handles enforcement of provincial jurisdiction. Your request is best directed to DFO,” wrote a spokesperson for the ministry.]

Secondly, Gladstone would like to see increased signage during the fall months explaining salmon fishing regulations.

“This could be as simple as having some sandwich boards placed at key areas to give anglers an idea of current regulations and restrictions. This would quell much of the confusion of fall salmon regulations and help curb ignorant fishing practices,” he told The Chief.

Thirdly, Gladstone is calling for more transparency from the DFO.

“If they plan on closing fisheries to the public then give us some numbers and data to support that closure. The Squamish River is an important system to not only recreational anglers but also to the Squamish Nation as a food fishery. DFO has shown they have little data on Squamish River salmon stocks, at least not made public,” he said, adding it would be in everyone’s interest for DFO to invest in some long-term monitoring of salmon stocks on the system. “This would benefit all user groups and would allow for some long-term planning of fisheries and their openings.”

Finally, Gladstone would like to see DFO make earlier decisions regarding angling openings. “We didn’t know if we were going to have a pink salmon opening for catch and release fishing this year until word came on July 5th. The opening was for July 15th. How are guiding operations supposed to plan for staffing and marketing if we never know what will be open until 10 days before? It makes running a business very hard and doesn’t bode well for consumer confidence in what we can offer.”

Regarding signage and notification of closures, the DFO spokesperson said that sports fishers have an advisory council — the Sport Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB) — that meets with DFO in the spring before the fishing season begins each year. "These meetings are the best format to discuss signage." 

Referring to the issue of transparency, the DFO spokesperson said that Fisheries and Oceans Fraser and Interior Area Stock Assessment does not assess salmon stocks in the Squamish watershed, but rather this work is done by the Squamish Nation via an Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy agreement administered by DFO Resource Management. 

That data is shared as part of the post-season review process.

Education value

Gladstone and other guides The Chief spoke to also note that guiding is also about educating clients who then are better fish stewards.

“As always, our aim is to have fun, maybe catch a fish or two, but more importantly let people leave with a greater appreciation for the area, the fishery and with a new knowledge base,” said Gladstone.

He said he worries that rivers that are closed to fishing lose their value.

“The more people we have caring for wild places and fish the better off we all are. To close access and opportunity to recreational fishing should be the absolute last resort.”

What do other anglers say?

Other guides, including Goyette of Valley Fishing Guides, told The Chief he agrees with all of Gladstone’s points. “I think that education is key, as we talk about angler education as well as public education on the do’s and don’ts with regards to salmon and spawning fish,” he said.

“It would be great if there was a multiple-choice questionnaire to take in order to get a license. At least the main points could be brought up.”

Angler and former guide Dave Brown also concurs with all of Gladstone’s points.

Mostly, he is concerned about the closure of local areas to fishing.

“It is a continued erosion that has occurred in the last five years of access — especially the last three [years] — for the public and the decision-makers are coming from the [Fisheries] Minister’s office, so it is very concerning.”

And Brown agrees that enforcement is critical, he said, adding that anglers appreciate the current local DFO officers.

“We worked very hard a few years ago when DFO was looking at closing the Squamish office, to keep it open,” he said. “That was very important to the community. Now, we are very pleased there are three officers in there.”

But, he said, anglers would like to see more of a presence out on local rivers.

He said increased signage and education is also essential.

“There are a lot more people who are coming into our area fishing and the more we can educate them and keep them well-informed,” he said, noting the way the DFO regulations are currently, it is hard to tell if an area is open to salmon fishing or not, at times.

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Economic Impact Assessment of Guided Angling in the Sea to Sky Region by Jennifer Thuncher on Scribd