Charter boats feeling pinch

Vancouver's two biggest salmon charter companies are hurting.

Owners Jason Tonelli and Jason Assonitis of Pacific Angler and Bon Chovy Fishing Charters say in previous years, they’d be well into the recreational salmon fishery season by now, sending out roughly 15 charter trips a day each to Bowen Island, Howe Sound, Nanaimo and the Gulf Islands.

They’d usually come back with at least one chinook salmon per person from a trip that would cost about $1,200 a head.

Things are markedly different this year. Instead, both are reporting huge financial losses, a customer base that’s dropped by 70 per cent, and staff layoffs.

“This has cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Tonelli said. “The total economic spinoff is in the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.”

This comes as a result of the most stringent chinook restrictions in 23 years, as the waters around Vancouver and much of the south coast were completely closed to recreational chinook retention by fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson on April 16.

The fisheries were closed to protect specific stocks of Fraser River chinook that have suffered meagre returns for more than a decade.

The recreational community doesn’t dispute that point, nor the need to protect those stocks of concern. But that’s where any sort of agreement between the feds and fishers ends.

Those in the recreational fishing sector say they are political pawns, stuck between the federal government, First Nations’ Constitutional rights and conflicting scientific claims. They say there are thousands of fish in the waters off Vancouver, such that chinook fishing is the best it’s been in 30 years.

They also say things that are deeply unpopular politically: some seals need to be killed to save salmon stocks, the save-the-whales lobby is spreading misinformation, and that some First Nations are taking too many fish.

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