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Angling club preparing to take on management role

The retirement of a provincial fisheries biologist who took an interest in Whistler's lakes and rivers will place more responsibility on the shoulders of the local fishing community, says Whistler Angling Club president Tom Cole.

The retirement of a provincial fisheries biologist who took an interest in Whistler's lakes and rivers will place more responsibility on the shoulders of the local fishing community, says Whistler Angling Club president Tom Cole.

"We managed to renew Vic Swiatkiewicz's interest in the area. He had done the original assessment work here in the early '70s when he started his career, and when he finished his career we're fortunate he was still interested," Cole says. "Plus, he was an avid golfer."

There is nobody responsible for managing lakes in the entire Lower Mainland, despite all the evidence that angling is a growing in popularity among locals and tourist. The provincial government doesn't keep records of fishing licenses on a regional basis, but according to the club members who have been fishing local lakes and rivers for decades, there are more poles over the water then ever before.

"What happens is that the hatcheries still go out and put fish in the lake based on a regime, but nobody is really in control of changes to that regime," says Cole. "Vic's mandate was not to look after the Whistler fisheries area, but because I befriended him he came up a few times and realized, hey, there is an interest here."

Swiatkiewicz introduced Whistler Angling Club members to the supervisor at the fish hatchery and helped to pilot a number of projects in the area. The most recent was the release of 4,000 sterilized Cutthroat trout into Alta Lake last June, in an experiment to bring back the once-thriving Kokanee salmon population.

The theory was that the sterilized trout would swallow of the Stickleback fish population, a species foreign to the lake that competes with the Kokanee for food. If successful it should allow the Kokanee to return on their own. Swiatkiewicz and Cole caught a few Cutthroat last fall to test the theory, and, judging by the size of the trout and the number that had Sticklebacks in their stomachs, so far it seems to be working.

"Through Vic we came up with a number of different recommendations we wouldn't have otherwise from information we get from the boys in the club," says Cole. "We're not scientists and we don't really have the ability to capture the data.

"Vic's last words when he retired were 'If you guys ever want changes to occur, you'd better get on it, you'd better start monitoring the lakes'."

Cole has met with members and is working to get the word out to anyone who fishes the local lakes and rivers to keep and store their records. The club has put creel buckets at lakes for visiting anglers to drop off notes.

One of the drawbacks has been the level of co-operation from Whistler's 20 licensed fishing guides, who are required to report to Victoria, but "feel it's proprietary knowledge," says Cole.

While the guides have been excellent in responding to regulations and catch and release orders, Cole would like to add their information to the club's files. Right now they don't have to report size, just numbers, but Cole feels that discrepancy can be changed as well.

"It's information that we would like to have so we can prescribe things like stocking more accurately," says Cole. "And when we ask for a catch and release, a change in the regulations, or a change in stocking, it would be interesting to have someone come back and say 'Yeah, that worked' and improve on the average numbers or average size."

Most lakes have a capacity determined by the amount of food they can provide to the fish. Without accurate data and stocking prescriptions to match this data, you can wind up with a lot of small fish, a few big fish, or no fish at all.

While it would be nice to have a liaison within government "to bounce ideas off of," Cole feels local anglers can play an important role in the future management of local fisheries providing they have their act together.

"If we need a change in regulations or in the stock regime, they (the Ministry of Environment) are going to ask 'Who are you and why would you think that', and we're going to need some pretty good evidence."

While nobody has stepped forward to compile the data collected by anglers in the area, Cole believes the job would take a summer student a few weeks and could be funded by the fishery industry.

"The important thing to do is to collect that information, and then to hold onto it," he says. "In the future I think we're going to see more partnerships and stewardship with the Ministry of Environment relying on groups like ours, and we need to have the data together. We're also going to need to get a little more sophisticated in how we're collecting that data."