Island fishing communities struggle with low salmon returns

Island fishing communities struggle with low salmon returns
WatchThe impact of drastically declining salmon returns and fishery closures has been devastating on coastal communities this season. In fishing reliant communities like French Creek, business has plummetted this year and there's growing anxiety that the situation will only get worse in years to come.

Kirk Oates was eager to get out fishing for salmon at last off French Creek Thursday after months of waiting due to sport fishing closures and restrictions have just partially been lifted.

“You know I understand the science behind the closures and all,” said Oates.

“But it’s still kind of hard to take when you’re sitting with your boat in the yard and you want to go fishing.”

This season’s closures that were sparked by protections for southern resident killer whales and low salmon returns have been devastating on this fishing reliant community.

“The guides are hurting, the stores are hurting, the hotels are hurting,” said fisherman Brian Klobchar.

“Restaurants are hurting. Everybody’s hurting.”

“Devastating,” said Cam Wheatley, owner of the French Creek Harbour Store.

“To everybody, to all the anglers, to tourists that were coming.”

Wheatley runs the French Creek Harbour Store with his wife and says their business has plummeted 65 per cent since fishing closures were announced earlier this spring.

“Any boat parts, anything to do with maintaining boats, all of the tackle that you put on board, bait sales. I mean the list is endless,” said Wheatley

What would be a usually busy harbour in summer is quiet, after a season full of charter trips have been cancelled and fishermen say its impacting communities up and down Vancouver Island the same way.

“It’s just it’s sad is what it is,” said Klobchar.

“It’s like we’re getting beaten down every year.”

“I’s really having a negative effect on the small businessmen, charters and guys like that,” said Oates.

With federal government experts blaming climate change’s ongoing effects for the plummeting salmon, it’s sinking in that this may be just the start of the downturn.

“If you were just basically a fishing operation I can see that being the writing on the wall,” said Wheatley.

“That this may be the last few years that you can actually make that viable.”

So Oates said he will enjoy what limited fishing trips he has left.

“Really happy to do it again,” said Oates smiling.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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