|Whoever thinks fishing is a quiet pastime had better tread carefully when they mention angling in the East Kootenays.
A battle rages between southern Alberta fishermen and a group of fishing guides in the area. And this goes far beyond a "my rod is bigger than your rod" argument.
The B.C. provincial government has implemented new regulations, which the guides helped define, making it more expensive and more inconvenient to fish on seven fabulous rivers in eastern B.C. The new laws are so divisive, the Committee of Canadians Concerned with Proposed Changes to East Kootenay Angling Regulations is contemplating a court challenge based on the belief the new regulations are unconstitutional.
"Inland fishing is federal jurisdiction," says Greg Shyba, a Calgary lawyer and longtime fisherman who heads up the committee. The committee states that these rules make no differentiation between Canadians living outside B.C. and non-Canadians.
Provincial government documents outlining the process behind the new regulations show that Albertans and a few Americans account for approximately 80 per cent of the angling in the area. The new, non-resident B.C. fishing regulations which went into effect April 1 and to some are a foolish joke require non-B.C. residents to buy a non-resident licence, ranging from $55 for an annual licence to $20 for a daily one. In addition, each day anglers must purchase a special $20 licence for each classified river they want to fish. Until now, non-B.C. residents would buy one non-resident licence and then fish away, as is the case in most other provinces, including Alberta.
The B.C. government argues the new rules are a response to complaints "that the angling experience is degrading or is likely to degrade in the future on rivers such as the Elk, Wigwam, St. Mary" and others. (B.C. government spokesmen didnt return interview requests.)
Shyba, who bought a cabin in the area 17 years ago and has fished there the entire time, says that's bunk.
"The only river where theres pressure is the Elk, and thats because theres too many guides. For the other rivers, which are basically all quality rivers, theres nobody on them."
The Kootenay Angling Guides Association (KAGA), which helped the provincial government define the new angling management plans for the region, states the new rules are a step toward improving the management and sustainability of rivers.
"Limiting the volume of fishing pressure is a means to not only sustain the quality and quantity of wild trout stocks, but also retain quality uncrowded fishing opportunities for all anglers," KAGA states.
To Shyba, it's all a smokescreen. He says the fishing has improved over the years and the guides simply want more people to use their services instead of fishing without a guide.
He may have a point. A KAGA news release states one of its future initiatives includes, "Discounted licence fees for anglers using a guide perhaps for 2005 where your guide will deal with all your licence requirements."
"If I was to take my wife and a couple of children for a two-week holiday (there), it would cost $2,200 for fishing licences alone," says Shyba. "Theyre going to lose a lot of people that go to that area."
To be sure, the new rules will harm the East Kootenay economy. A recent trip to a fly-fishing store revealed two well-established fly fishermen had already cancelled their annual East Kootenay fishing vacations because of the new regulations.
Shyba's group has about 300 members hoping to raise the issue to a high enough priority that the B.C. government will change the new licensing rules. Being a lawyer, though, Shyba concedes it will be a hard battle. He knows it's an expensive challenge that can be negated on the court steps with a provincial government official simply stating the regulations will be changed.