No charges laid in VIP fishing trip to Ecstall River, anglers told

But DFO says ongoing conversations will limit likelihood of repeat incidents

Skeena River anglers are alarmed a DFO investigation into the Ecstall River fishing controversy may not result in any charges, nor is the department likely to formally close loopholes that can allow it to happen again.

“This is too big to let die. Something has to be done here,” says Bob Hooton, a Smithers-resident angler and retired B.C. Environment Ministry fisheries section head for the Skeena region.

“You can’t have some deal with whomever wants to pay for fishing privileges, to approach a First Nation and say ‘well, what does it take to get a fishing permit under your communal licence?’”

Last August DFO found guests of the Komoham Lodge, owned by BassPro owner John Morris, fishing for Chinook in the closed Ecstall River, a lower Skeena tributary near Prince Rupert.

READ MORE: Anglers furious over VIP fishing trip

DFO did not issue any fines when the group, all believed to be non-Indigenous, showed officers a food-fishing permit issued by the Lax Kw’alaams band. The private lodge claimed the fishing party, comprised mostly of wealthy, high profile Americans, was assembled as part of a relationship-building and scientific-research exercise with the Lax Kw’alaams over low salmon stocks. The fishing party included leaders of wildlife conservation groups, including a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, now CEO of Ducks Unlimited, and the president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

The lodge said the exercise was approved by DFO.

DFO however quickly denied knowledge of the lodge’s arrangement with the band. The department also confirmed with the Terrace Standard an exercise as described would not meet the intent of a First Nations communal fishing permit.

DFO now appears to have reversed its position. News of the investigation’s conclusion surfaced at a meeting for the Lower Skeena Sport Fishing Advisory Committee March 12. According to the minutes, an attending DFO officer said the file is closed, as the angling was in fact legally permitted through the Aboriginal FSC communal license.

READ MORE: Fish processor near Prince Rupert to be audited after reports of illegal bartering

It was noted future communal licenses could be written differently so similar incidents don’t occur in the future.

DFO will not confirm with the Terrace Standard whether the investigation is formally closed, but in a vaguely-worded email a spokesperson said the matter was still in discussion on some level.

“Fishery officers from the Conservation and protection Program continue to work with our internal and external partners to provide clarity and information regarding this situation to all concerned,” it reads. “The objective is to ensure that a full understanding of the intent and communication requirements [of communal licences] is reached with all.”

That’s not good enough for Hooton. Local anglers faced restrictions and closures in last year on prized chinook-bearing rivers, causing deep impacts to a $16.5-million tourism industry vital to the local economy. At the same time, Hooton says, wealthy foreigners were allowed to exploit loopholes for privileged access to the public resource.

Hooton has issued a public letter to Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Jonathan Wilkinson, calling for formal warnings to the Komoham Lodge and their fishing guide. He wants to see meaningful regulations with well-known consequences.

READ MORE: Second dump site of 200 Dungeness crab discovered

“Conservation measures that virtually eliminated the entire chinook salmon recreational fishery throughout the Skeena in 2018 were a bitter pill to swallow, especially given how those measures were implemented,” he wrote. “For the recreational fishing and conservation communities to subsequently witness the Ecstall circumstances took that bitterness to another level. Please provide your immediate and firm commitment there will not be a repeat of Ecstall 2018 there or anywhere else in British Columbia in 2019 and beyond.”

Second only to conservation interests, the First Nations fishery for food, social and ceremonial purposes is given the highest priority among fisheries under federal jurisdiction.

Greg Knox, executive director of the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, shared the angler’s concern last year, saying it’s crucial the integrity of that First Nations licence be upheld. Otherwise, he said, “It becomes the wild west of fisheries management, where if you have some sort of arrangement or you have money to purchase one of these permits from a First Nation, you essentially have the same rights as First Nations to harvest fish.”

Interview requests to Lax Kw’alaams leadership were not returned.


 


quinn@terracestandard.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Water movement increased in Houston reservoirs

Measure in response to 2019 boil water notice

Crown won’t appeal sentence in child sex assault case of former Burns Lake mayor

B.C. Prosecution Service said sentence doesn’t meet standard for appeal

Miscommunication led to three people turned away at pipeline checkpoint: RCMP

Mounties were installing new access procedures after checkpoint was set up for Coastal GasLink site

Pipeline at centre of B.C. conflict is creating jobs for First Nations: chief

All 20 elected band councils along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route have signed benefits agreements

Coastal GasLink makes new request to meet with First Nation pipeline opponents

President writes letter following Premier John Horgan’s comments on law needing to be followed

Kids across Canada more at risk of hospitalization from flu this season: doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later

Coastal GasLink repeats desire for meeting with hereditary chiefs

Coastal GasLink says they’re ready to meet with the hereditary chiefs at their convenience

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

‘Scariest boat ride of my life’: Passengers trapped by ice on rocky B.C. ferry sailing

The Nimpkish docked in Bella Coola on Jan.12 coated in a thick layer of ice

B.C. pair ordered to pay $55,000 for oil tank discovered four years after selling home

Judge says defendants breached contract, despite being unaware of tank until basement flooded

Canada to give $25,000 to families of each Canadian who died in Iran plane crash

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also made it clear that Canada still expects Iran to compensate victims

Most Read