Dozens of fishermen took to the waters off Sooke on Sunday to protest a local fishing ban that they say has devastated their community.
“Otter Point was always the place to fish to be in the riptide and go up to 2nd and 3rd rock,” said Elden Smith of Crab Shack Sportfishing. “Now it’s just empty.”
A fin-fish ban for recreation fishing was implemented earlier this year by The Department of Fisheries and Oceans from Otter Point to East point near Port Renfrew, but some say the closure wasn’t clear from the start.
“We were initially okay with Sherringham [Point] to East Point,” said local fisherman Bruce Webber who attended the initial public consultations earlier this year. “Then in the last 48 hours they bumped it to Otter Point and that’s a good area [for fishing.]”
The federal government is cutting back coast-wide on allowed catches of prized chinook salmon as it attempts to save the small population of endangered southern resident killer whales which are threatened by vessel noise, environmental pollution and lack of salmon.
“To close that area alone will do nothing to make more chinook salmon,” said Mike Hicks, Capital Regional District Director for the Juan De Fuca Electoral Area. “The closure is accomplishing absolutely nothing except hurting the good people of Sooke.”
Others believe the fishing community is being unfairly singled out.
“There were 27 whaleboats out here the other day and maybe they should be limited to a certain area,” Smith explained.
“It’s 10 to 12 hours a day where you have active whale watching boats always in that 100-200 metre range,” said Scott Burchett of Off the Grid Marine Charters. “There is constant harassment of the whales.”
The DFO has also been asking for input on another potential closure from Owen point all the way to Tofino, including the Swiftsure and Laparuse Banks for recreational and commercial fishing.
“None of us are bad guys, whale watchers or fisherman,” Webber explained. “As long as we put back into the systems themselves and that’s into the rivers and the habitat.”
With a large part of the local economy at stake, the protesters say they’ll continue to speak out until their message is heard.