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The cost of two socks

By Rodney Hsu, Fishing with Rod | Published in July 2004

It's that time of the year again. You can almost sense the anticipation at times. Tacklestores begin to stock up thousands of bouncing betties, to capture an instant profit from a very lucrative market. It's now up to the fishery managers, who are under a tremendous amount of pressure from local businesses, fishing guides, individuals of the sportfishing community and even politicians. The big question is, when does the annual Fraser River sockeye harvest begin? Yes indeed, it's a harvest, as I doubt many have the will to drive for two hours, stand shoulder to shoulder to catch and release a few sockeye salmon. Not exactly relaxation in my dictionary.

The problem with the Fraser sockeye fishery does not lie within whether the fish are biting the offerings or not. Let's face it, without an underwater camera that gathers solid evidence, no one should be concluding how the fish are being taken. The main issue lies in the mentality among participants, which often transforms into numerous social and environmental problems.

Duration of a sockeye opening is controlled by the amount of fish that are returning. If the fishery managers feel the escapement (the remaining population after harvest and natural death) is high enough, then an opening is granted. A simple task it seems, but not true at all. Factors such as ocean condition, river water temperature, predatory kills can easily cause complication in the estimate.

Openings are often short, to ensure a safe passage for the remaining run during closures. This usually results in a "gold rush" hype. Thousands of people converge into one area each opening day with the same goal - To satisfy their craving for the best tasting salmon in the world. The problem isn't the number of participants, but the atmosphere that has been created. Ever since sportfishers were allowed to harvest sockeye salmon around two decades ago, more individuals feel the need to abuse this privilege each year. Dads would obtain fishing licenses for every member in a family just so they could bring more fish home.

Since catching fish is the main objective, usually the other aspects of fishing are forgotten in freshwater sockeye fisheries. Competition for space is not a rarity. Social problems such as conflicts and theft usually follow. Mass littering is an common sight. Sadly, it seems a "fun" harvest brings out the ugliness of people.

I have never taken part in the freshwater sockeye fisheries. The main reason being I could simply walk down to Steveston Village to buy an ocean-fresh sockeye salmon and enjoy the rest of my day, instead of spending five hours of total driving time and over $40 worth of fuel to retain two fish. What baffles me is, with so many different types of fishing opportunities, why spend so much money, time and energy to harvest two fish? If the cost and benefit factor is the main concern, then it sure does not seem profitable.

Finally, do not forget the environment. Like any other outdoor activities, sportfishing also leaves a trail of damages in our environment. These damages can be the fish you decide to kill, the lead weight that you drop in the water and the fishing line that you discard on the river bank. When heading out during this year's sockeye openings, I urge you, responsible sportfishers, to consider how you can minimize the amount of negative impacts on the environment. It is also important to ask ourselves, does it seem fair to litter the mighty Fraser River with bouncing betties just so we can harvest a few sockeyes? Would it be dangerous to cause the death of many sockeye salmon before they reach spawning ground due to improper catch and release method?

Even though the sockeye harvest is designated as a legal practice, we should not be caught up in the hype. Choosing not to take part in it does not make me a better fisherman, but it would eliminate my guilt if the run is completely ruined in several decades from now. The cost of two sockeyes goes beyond the dollar value. Western Canada can be considered as the last wild frontier, don't take it for granted and make the same mistakes like what we have done to the rest of this planet.