Proposed fishing closure will put Vancouver Island community’s future at risk, locals fear

Residents of a small fishing community in southern Vancouver Island are anxiously awaiting a decision about a fishing closure that they say will devastate the area’s economy. 

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is proposing to expand an area off-limits to salmon fishing off the coast of Port Renfrew, B.C., a community that relies on fishing tourism.

DFO’s goal is to protect foraging grounds for the endangered southern resident killer whales, whose diet is comprised almost exclusively of salmon. The final decision from DFO is expected later this month.

But many recreational fishing guides say the proposed measures would leave them no viable place left to fish for chinook salmon, which is the main reason tourists come to the area. 

WATCH | Fishing guides react to proposed closure: 

‘It’s not fair and it’s not right’: Port Renfrew fishing guides worry about proposed fishing closure

5 days ago

Duration 0:59

Residents of a small fishing community on Vancouver Island are worried a proposed chinook salmon fishing closure could harm the area’s tourism economy.

“If they keep closing everything down like they’re doing, we’ll be done,” said Desmond Hatchard, a fishing guide for more than 15 years.

“I won’t even be able to sell my boat because nobody will want it.” 

Hatchard is one of dozens of fishing guides in the community, which has a year-round population of about 250 people. 


Chris Tucker, president of the local chamber of commerce, says the proposed regulations will have a “massive” economic impact on residents. 

Once a logging community, Port Renfrew is now heavily dependent on recreational fishing and the hospitality sector that supports it. Tucker estimates fishing charters generate about $26 million for the local economy over the five-month fishing season, with tourists staying in local hotels and eating in local restaurants.

This year’s fishing season ramps up in less than a month and still the industry has no answers about where they’ll be allowed to fish, said Tucker. 

“I don’t know of any other industry in Canada that is given such little notice, or no notice, of massive regulatory changes,” said Tucker.

“We should not be discussing right now what the regulations will be in 2024. We should have known that for months, or a year.”

On The Island10:16Fishing closure proposed off the coast of Port Renfrew could be a game changer for the area

Another fishing closure off the coast of Port Renfrew is on the table, and it could be a game changer for the area. CBC’s Roszan Holmen spent some time in the community to learn more.

Closure ‘makes no sense’: association

Some in the industry say they are frustrated by the DFO’s lack of transparency about its scientific rationale. 

“As a fisherman and a hunter, if sustainability was ever in question, I wouldn’t do it,”  said Matt Wiley, who owns a sport-fishing charter company in Port Renfrew, adding that data shows there are “plenty of fish returning back to many rivers along the B.C. coast.” 

But conservation biologist Misty MacDuffee cautions against weighing too heavily on recent data on the abundance of chinook. 

“The return last year to the Middle Fraser [River] … was extraordinarily strong,” said MacDuffee, who works with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and is the director of the foundation’s wild-salmon program.

“But we don’t know if that’s going to happen again this year, we don’t know what caused that; so, to use that one example of how chinook are recovering isn’t really much evidence.” 

A graph showing chinook salmon returns to the Fraser River by year displays a huge spike in 2023.
A graph shows the exceptional return of four-year-old chinook stock entering the Fraser River in midsummer 2023. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

In materials presented to the sport-fishing community Jan. 12, DFO mapped out important foraging areas for the southern resident killer whales. 

Fishing is already off-limits in the Swiftsure Bank — around 40 kilometres west of Port Renfrew — and adjacent areas of the Juan de Fuca Strait. The DFO is now proposing to extend the closure right to the shoreline by Port Renfrew. 

But the fishing community rejects the modelling informing the map. Recreational fishers say they almost never see the endangered whales near the shoreline. 

“For DFO to say it will shut an area down when southern residents are rarely there makes no sense, and is negligent,” said Wayne Friesen, chair of the B.C. Recreational Fishing Association. 

The MP for the area is sponsoring a petition in the House of Commons in support of the fishing guides. Alistair MacGregor, NDP MP for Cowichan–Malahat–Langford, says the DFO should listen to their expertise. 

“The recreational fishing community wants to be part of the conversation and the conservation measures … but they are also looking to be able to retain a little bit of fish for themselves to keep what is an economic lifeline alive for a small coastal community like Port Renfrew,” said MacGregor. 

On The Island8:39Why the DFO is considering an expanded fishing closure in Port Renfrew

Recreational Fishing in Port Renfrew may soon suffer a serious blow. We’ll look at why the DFO is considering an expanded fishing closure in the area.


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