Where Hope Resides: Q&A with Boots Allen producer

On Thursday November 12th, 6:30pm catch the Eugene Showing of Where Hope Resides, a new film about salmon and steelhead conservation issues in British Columbia’s Skeena River system. The film will be shown at the David Minor Theater 180 E. 5th St. Eugene, OR. Tickets are $10 pre-sale at the Caddis Fly Shop. All of the shows so far this year have sold out, so pick up your ticket early.

Join director Jason Sutton and producer Boots Allen of JahTrout at the event, and the afterparty, TBD.

Below is an interview with the producer of the film, Boots Allen.

The Skeena is really amazing in that unlike most of our rivers, it’s un-dammed. But the fish stocks are still struggling. If you had to pick one factor causing this decline, what would it be?

Boots Allen: I wish I could only pick one factor, but I can’t. What I can say is that some factors are more important than others. I don’t think that anyone would argue that ocean survival factors are a primary culprit. This is something that I think would be hard for anyone to do anything about. Some reputable individuals in fishery sciences and businesses have also pointed to the fact that many Skeena fish are caught by Alaskan fleets on their migration home. In addition, there has also been well documented habitat degradation due to clear-cutting of forests and general commercial and residential development. That is a big one. But I think that so much attention is now being turned to the issue of by-catch and overharvesting by the off-shore commercial fleets because many studies are showing that it has been detrimental to many threatened species and stocks within the Skeena watershed. The recent Independent Science Review Panel report clearly showed. As it is currently established, the commercial fleets are one of the primary culprits in the decline of steelhead and sockeye stocks like those from Kitwanga and Lakelse.

This is not to say that commercial salmon harvesting on the Skeena River has to come to an end. The fishery is, for the most part, strong. What is needed is a fundamental change in how harvesting is accomplished. This is already underway. Much of the commercial fishing is being moved upriver to parts of the river and its tributaries that will do FAR less harm to threatened stocks. This is benefiting various First Nations tribes with additional revenue, jobs, and strengthening a link to an economic activity that is culturally vital for them.

What I think nobody wants is for offshore commercial fishing, and the cultural links that it provides to coast tribes and locals, to come to an end. It just needs severe restructuring. This may include downsizing, but this is already happening. What would be nice is for the Mifflin Plan to be revisited and to see if it is feasible for commercial offshore fishermen to once again be allowed to harvest more than just one specie of fish (not just salmon, but halibut, herring, crab, etc.) and in more than just one part of the coast on one license. That may help save offshore commercial fishing, and allow all species and stock to be harvest sustainably. 

The commercial guys like to trot out the numbers and hours that recreational fishermen spend on the Skeena versus their limited seasons. I can appreciate their point of view, but are 700 guys with fly rods having any sort of comparable impact on that resource?

BA: I certainly don’t think so. At the same time, there is a certain amount of impact that anglers do have on the fishery. No doubt all of us have seen fellow anglers improperly handle steelhead and trout – beaching them, putting a death grip on them for a photo, or that god-awful act of having the fish out of the water for minutes on end while the angler gets several photos of his or her catch. There is also intentional and unintentional harvesting of protected species that is occurring on the rivers of the Skeena. Our director Jason Sutton witnessed an angler on the Copper River with a cooler with four steelhead in it. The angler honestly thought that they were coho. So these are issues that all anglers have to come to terms with. Sport fishers have an impact, and we should admit it and do what we can to remedy our impact.

At the same time, to suggest that upstream anglers are having a negative impact on stressed stocks equal to or great than that of the commercial industry is out-right silly. The problem is that the commercial offshore industry in its current state is about as unsustainable as it can get. Think about those relatively strong sockeye stocks of the drainage like those from the Babine. They are for the most part making their runs at the same time as weak/threatened sockeye stocks like those from the Kitwanga and Lakelse. When those commercial boats go out to the mouth of the Skeena to lay their nets, there is no conceivable way for them to distinguish between stocks. It is theoretically possible that a huge percentage of threatened stocks could be harvested by seiners and gill netters, and this is no matter what limited amount of time the nets can be on the water.
Also there are some years when the Skeena sockeye run coincides with the run of Skeena steelhead. Now it is quite easy to distinguish sockeye from steelhead. But if you have seen what happens to a steelhead, or any fish for that matter, when it gets into a gillnet or towed onboard a boat with a seine, you know that it is not a pretty sight. How many of these steelhead or other fish can actually survive that kind of stress?

So I can’t imagine recreational anglers having anything close to that kind of impact. For one think, A LOT of the recreational anglers do their fishing upstream of the threatened stock streams. Thus, they wouldn’t even be touching these threatened fish

What’s the latest update on Coal Bed Drilling? Tar pipeline?

BA: There is good news and bad news. As many who are following issues up there know, a two-year moratorium was placed on coalbed methane mining in the Sacred Headwaters region late last autumn. This victory belongs to a dedicated coalition of local environmental organizations, the First Nations of the region, local businesses and citizens, and local and visiting sportsmen. The downside is that this is just a moratorium. It is conceivable that the moratorium could be lifted early, or allowed to come to and end and mining exploration will then continue. So the fight on this issue will no doubt continue for quite some time. What is needed is a permanent ban on industrial resource extraction in this sensitive ecosystem.

The Enbridge Pipeline is a bit of a tougher issue. For those who are unfamiliar with the pipeline, what is being proposed is a line to carry tar sand oil from the Athabasca fields in Alberta, through the Skeena watershed, and down to the port at Kitimat. The risk here is that not only is their a chance for a pipeline break within the drainage, but there is a chance for oil tanker accidents offshore at or near the mouth of rivers like the Skeena and the Nass. The pipeline has a lot of support by provincial governments and many in the Canadian Parliament. But there is international pressure as well, as the pipeline, the product, and those transporting the product have huge financial stakes in seeing the pipeline come to fruition. Just think about the growing energy needs of China and India. Luckily, opposition to the pipeline is gaining fast and furious traction by locals who feel they would be impacted by its establishment and by local, provincial, national, and international NGOs who fear the impact that the pipeline might have both on land and possibly offshore. One of the strongest arguments these organizations are using in their opposition to the pipeline is the economic, cultural, and biological importance of wild salmon and steelhead to the region. That is one of the most effective arguments a coalition can make.

Skeena Wild and Save Our Wild Salmon have both been tracking this issue closely. Its going to be one hell of a fight. 

It seems like fighting for environmental issues is different (even more difficult) in Canada versus the U.S. Can you compare the two?

BA: I would first say that fighting for environmental issues on both sides of the border are difficult, although we are seeing small but significant victories both in the U.S. and in Canada. Nonetheless, there are noticeable differences. Based on my own observations and discussions with folks in B.C and Alberta, many of them feel that their provinces are nothing more than “resource extraction zones for eastern and southern Canada”. My feeling is that there is a fairly large disconnect between most Canadians and their compatriots of the North regarding issues of conservation and environmentalism. This disconnect obviously exists in the U.S., but based on what I have observed, it’s just not as extreme. Canadians I have conversed with tell me that this is evident in the media. They tell me that in Quebec and Ontario, it is very rare for people to actually see B.C. and Alberta’s environmental issues covered in the news, be it through television or magazine and newspaper coverage. They also point to the limited number of environmental organizations both nationally and regionally and the lack of resources the organizations have.

So if you think about this, it really translates to lack of information and knowledge of issues for Canada’s general public as a whole. When our director Jason Sutton was in Vancouver B.C. for several months doing editing work on our film, on several occasions he would tell people that he was working on a film about the state of salmon and steelhead in the Skeen River watershed. More than once, people would ask “where is the Skeena River”? And this was in Vancouver for god’s sake!

My feeling is that this is changing, albeit at a glacial pace. Much of this is due to greater collaboration and networking between environmental NGOS in the U.S. and Canada. We are seeing groups like Skeena Wild and the Headwaters Initiative spring up and partner with U.S. organizations like the Moore Foundation. They are doing tremendous work in community outreach, research, and fundraising. They are doing a fantastic job of getting the word out to interested parties and individuals on both sides of the border. And when you get those numbers behind an issue, it can pay huge dividends in political and public relations arenas. Just look at what they did regarding coalbed methane mining and fish farms. 

What do you do when you’re not producing movies w/ Jahtrout? Any new movie plans on the horizon.

BA: I continue to work as a guide and fly tier and fly fishing writer in western Wyoming and eastern Idaho. It is also during this part of the year that I do work with some of the local conservation organizations, particularly the Snake River Fund and Teton Valley Trout Unlimited. That keeps me pretty busy from the beginning of May to the end of October. But it also gives me lots of time in the winter to work on the different aspects of filmmaking that I handle for Jahtrout Productions.

We have a number of ideas for our next movie. One that is most realistic is to turn our attention to what is happening in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., particularly with salmon and steelhead recovery, hatcheries, and the continuing debate and movement towards the removal of dams. With what is happening on the Klamath, the Elwha, and the traction various coalitions are getting in regard to the removal of the lower Snake dams, such a film would be very timely, and possibly influential. We think that exploring the economic and cultural benefits of dam removal for the likes of the sport fishing community, the commercial fishing industry, the Northwest tribes, and all peoples of the Northwest, could make for one hell of movie.

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2 Responses to Where Hope Resides: Q&A with Boots Allen producer

  1. Rob R says:

    Fantastic interview. Thanks for the Skeena update and for your hard work!!

  2. I always enjoy reading about conservation efforts involving fly fishing.

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