The Thompson remains closed for the steelhead season (Oct 1st - Dec 31st).
There is no way to determine the fate of Thompson steelhead. Right now there is so much that needs to be done it is hard to know where to start. Significant issues include water diversion for irrigation along the Thompson's spawning tributaries, general habitat concerns, commercial interception, and ocean survival. A meeting is being held in Spences Bridge on September 18th open to stakeholders and the public in an effort to begin a recovery process. I'll be attending as a representative of the British Columbia Federation of Fly Fishers and the Steelhead Society of British Columbia. At this stage all we can do is wait to see what comes out of the meeting and then decide on next steps.
Test net results are dismal so far--one steelhead has been caught. The first few weeks of October are seen as a critical indicator of Thompson steelhead returns and I haven't seen it this bad since I started monitoring things back in 1994.
At a meeting last night we were informed that the test results so far - are the worst ever recorded! A mass of steelhead could be entering the lower Fraser as I type, but I am not holding my breath for it to open this season. In fact I will be on the Clearwater this weekend...
I've sat on committees and gone to meetings ad infinitum - right now I don't have the stomach to recite the litany - again - I need to go fishing - even if it isn't on my beloved Thompson (the Clearwater is a bit of a look-a-like). Maybe after that if no one has answered I can outline the issues one more time
Okay, since I'm leaving for the Clearwater later today I can face talking about my "mistress" the Thompson.
There have been some developments recently that are both encouraging and discouraging. There was a much lauded meeting in Spence's Bridge September 18 that was to initiate a Thompson Recovery Plan. Money has been committed to have a consulting company investigate and make recommendations as to what needs to be done. I guess this is necessary, but they could save the $45,000 and get the same info from those of us who spend our time on the river and efforts trying to do something. Never-the-less it is a start. I worry that now that this has moved into the political arena that it will turn out like most of these initiatives do - lots meeting, accusations, teeth gnashing and very little concrete stuff happening - I guess we cross our fingers and wait and see.
As well on the positive side, there appears to be some actual political will on the part of the Government (WLAP) to look at the Thompson's problems - particularly water issues in the Nicola Valley. Recently there was a major government conference looking specifically at how they might better deal with the realities of drought conditions in already arid regions - with particular focus on the Nicola. Next week (Oct 14-15) there is a major water planning conference/workshop in Merritt where the various water user groups will meet and discuss how to better manage the scarce water supply. This will be an important meeting.
This is particularly interesting in that it appears that the Cattlemen's Association (historically the most chronic abusers of water rights) are very interested in solving the problems. I guess that public opinion is starting to effect them. If this is the case then there may yet be hope.
On the other hand, this involves the almighty dollar - so we know what will happen when push comes to shove... It seems that the "soft-sell" approach to getting the ranchers "onside" is the modus operandi of the Government. Without legislative changes all the cards are stacked with the water license holders and the fish have no rights to the water. Currently the approach is to try to get voluntary compliance to fish needs... I don't know how effective it will be.
My biggest concern is that in spite of the political will of WLAP and some public opinion, that it will come down to money. Our government has slashed WLAP's budget to below bare bones and the personnel - though very committed to the resource have nothing to work with - often having to outright beg private groups to fund critical projects that should paid for by government.
The other concern with the lack of funding is the result it has on sportfishing. Without other options the cheapest and easiest way to manage the river - is to close it. Sportfishing is the least damaging user of the resource (it has been catch and release for 15 years), yet since we are the only group committed to the fish themselves - we are willing to accept closures and restrictions "for the good of the resource". It is extremely discouraging to "take the hit" and not fish while we watch ranchers drain the spawning tribs to grow hay to feed cattle that they can't sell to anybody anyways. Or to watch commercial boats and native drift nets in the Fraser catch Thompson Steelhead in a worthless Chum salmon fishery - all the while the greatest steelhead on the face of the earth are dying the death of a thousand cuts...
Now I am angry again - I hope the flows of the Clearwater can at least cool my dander for a bit.
I haven't had the oppurtunity to make it out to British Columbia yet, but I'm working on a trip out to the Skeena area for next year. I hope some day to make it out to the Thompson once it's open and the fish have returned in numbers.
I just printed a membership form and am sending a donation to the Steelhead Society of British Columbia. It may not be a lot but I want to help to preserve this resource now so that my kids and I can come up and enjoy it in the future.
Thanks for that, the money will be put to good use. The SSBC has just donated $6700 to cover the purchase of a water meter on the Lower Coldwater (the main spawning trib of the Thompson) WLAP identified this as one of their critical needs. The meter will be online so we can all check on the river level. The meter will also require some $2000/year to maintain and operate - so any help is extremely valuable.
I think buying the fishery is a good thought, but probably not realistic. The "rights" aren't owned by the fishermen as were salmon in Iceland - there is nothing to buy. Secondly, the absolute impact of the fishery on the steelhead of the Thompson is minor compared to habitat issues. The SSBC is investigating the feasabilty of land purchases in the Nicola/Deadman drainages. Controlling the key spawning/rearing areas and their water rights is do-able and well within the realm of possibility - with enough funding.
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