Sports anglers in British Columbia have asked the federal government to charge them more to go salmon fishing.
But the 300,000 anglers who annually buy salt-water licences on the West Coast just can't get the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to agree to a fee hike, a federal commission appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper heard Monday.
"We have been enormously frustrated by the Department's inability to charge us more money," Gerry Kristianson told the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.
Mr. Kristianson, Chair of the Sport Fishery Advisory Board (SFAB), said salt-water-fishing licences haven't increased in price since the mid-1990s, and anglers are prepared to pay more if the money will be returned by the government to help manage the resource.
He said his board, which advises DFO on a voluntary basis, has been told the request for higher licence fees is caught up in government red tape.
Mr. Kristianson said it seems odd any group "is unable to have the government collect more money from it," and urged Commissioner Bruce Cohen to look into the situation.
Mr. Cohen, a Supreme Court of B.C. judge who is heading the inquiry, made no comment, but was busy taking notes throughout the testimony by Mr. Kristianson, Frank Kwak, a recreational angler who serves on many advisory bodies, and Jeremy Maynard, past chair of the SFAB and a professional fishing guide.
An annual salt-water-salmon licence costs a resident $21, and a non-resident $101.
Mr. Kristianson did not say how much more anglers wanted to pay, and panel members aren't allowed to take questions from the media while under oath. By comparison, the province charges residents $36 and non-residents $55, for an annual fresh-water licence. The provincial licence allows fishermen to catch salmon once they have left the ocean and entered rivers.
Mr. Kwak said the province is considering hiking its fresh-water licence fees, and urged Mr. Cohen to keep that in mind should he make any recommendations concerning increases to the federal salt-water licence.
He told the Commission "upward of 5,000 fishermen a day" can be seen on the Fraser during the sockeye run, but said it is not clear how many fish they catch, because DFO doesn't have a comprehensive or rigorous way of collecting catch data.
Mr. Kwak questioned whether an accurate count of anglers can be made from patrol flights over the Fraser. And he said DFO workers, who ask anglers on the river how many fish they have caught, in an onsite survey, can get misleading data, because fishermen exaggerate how many fish they have caught.
He said that often takes people from his church fishing, and when they are questioned by DFO surveyors, he will hear them say they caught 15 or 20 pink salmon, when in fact they might have had that many briefly hooked, but lost them all.
Mr. Kristianson said surveys can be reliable, but that DFO surveyors need to be given the authority to inspect an anglers' catch, rather than just relying on fishermen to volunteer a catch estimate.
The Cohen Commission is expected to turn to scientific issues Tuesday, after finishing with the recreational fishing panel.