Labour Day weekend in Port Alberni wouldn’t be the same without a salmon derby, so the Alberni Valley Tyee Club will deliver despite the global coronavirus pandemic.
A group of sportfishers are organizing the socially distanced Port Alberni Ultimate Fishing Derby for Sept. 5–7, 2020 without an accompanying festival.
The Port Alberni Salmon Festival committee cancelled its annual fest and fishing derby two months ago, due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings of more than 50 people.
“We were following the advice of (the B.C. medical health officer) of less than 50,” Salmon Fest president Dan Washington said. “The board made the decision to not host the festival in 2020. The Tyee Club said ‘we want to have a fishing derby.’”
The salmon derby and festival got its start as a Port Alberni Tyee Club salmon derby in 1971. It wasn’t until 1972 when Fred Duncan, then the publisher of the now defunct Alberni Valley Times, came up with the idea of a Labour Day festival to keep people in town.
“In this town on the long weekends, everyone would hop in their trucks and campers and go camping,” said longtime resident and fisher Bob Cole, who grew up in Port Alberni. “The town was deserted.”
The derby was so popular at one point that Cole, a past-president of the Salmon Fest committee, said nearly 4,400 tickets were sold in one year.
So it’s not a stretch for the Tyee Club to host the fishing part of the weekend, he added.
Al Ehrenberg, owner at Gone Fishin’ in Port Alberni, Courtenay and Nanaimo, is taking the lead on the derby. “People have been clamouring for it,” he said. “Myself, Carolyn (Jasken of the Ultimate Fishing Town campaign) and Bob (Cole) decided we should have a derby.”
“Fishing in your boat with your family is as big at social distancing as you can get,” Cole said.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has traditionally approved the derby for sportfishers in that weekend slot, and both Cole and Ehrenberg said they wanted to keep that slot open for future years. “The DFO has always given us an opportunity to have a successful fishery in the Alberni Inlet that has great economic impact on the Alberni Valley,” he said.
“We are granted a window to do this derby and we should take advantage of it…there is no reason not to do a derby.”
The salmon derby will help celebrate the 10th anniversary of Port Alberni’s ‘Ultimate Fishing Town’ win. The prize structure will be the same as during Salmon Fest: daily prizes of $5,000, $2,000 and $1,000 for the top three fish as well as a $5,000 bonus for the biggest fish caught during the derby. A leader board will be posted on social media.
Fish will be weighed at a special weigh station on Centennial Pier at Harbour Quay, Cole said. Length, girth and weight of the fish will be recorded, a photo will be taken and the fish returned to the derby participant. “We won’t clean the fish, we won’t keep the fish, due to COVID-19 rules,” he said.
The Port Alberni Port Authority approved the new pier as a weigh-in spot: previously, fish were brought to Clutesi Haven Marina or in more recent years Tyee Landing for weigh-in. Ehrenberg said there should be a weigh-in spot in Bamfield as well. As the organizing committee approaches sponsors, they hope to have hidden weight prizes.
Ehrenberg said the derby needs to sell 1,000 derby tickets to break even; he isn’t sure how many tickets will be printed. Sportfishers wanting to enter the derby must pay $50 per ticket, one ticket per each rod on a boat.
A portion of ticket sales will go toward salmon enhancement programs.
Tickets are available at Gone Fishin’ and other marine stores in the Alberni Valley.