Why Is The Ganaraska River Closed for Salmon Fishing?

On their September 4th Fish’n Canada Live webcast, co-hosts Pete Bowman and Angelo Viola interviewed Jim McCormack, Director of Parks, Recreation, and Culture for the Municipality of Port Hope, about the controversial decision to close access to the Ganaraska during the fall Salmon migration.

A Controversial Decision

To limit group gatherings during the ongoing pandemic, the town of Port Hope has made the controversial decision to temporarily close all municipal lands that border the Ganaraska River from September 2nd to October 15th, during the Salmon migration. The annual Salmon run draws a significant influx of tourists to the community. This provides a seasonal economic boost, but this year carries a significant risk of COVID-19 spread.

The Fish’n Canada co-hosts invited Jim McCormack (Director of Parks, Recreation, and Culture for the Municipality of Port Hope) onto their weekly Fish’n Canada Live webcast to discuss the difficult decision his council had to make and the inevitable backlash.

“I know a lot of people think it’s an overreaction,” Jim admits. But he urges people to consider the threat presented by a considerable influx of tourists during a time when Port Hope and Northumberland County have been very successful at keeping their COVID-19 cases low.  “It is unbelievable how many people are in our community, especially on the weekends. We’re talking thousands and thousands of people. And I want to make something really clear, because there’ve been a lot of people saying, ‘They’re picking on fisherman, they don’t like anglers.’ And that’s the furthest thing from the truth.”

We’re Not Out of the Woods

“To be quite frank,” Jim continues, “the purpose of doing this isn’t just the anglers, because I would argue with anybody that we get even more… I’ll call them ‘fish viewers’ or tourists that come, and all they come to do is watch the fish. They walk up and down our trails… and they congregate all through our community. We had forty-eight tour buses registered with the municipality last year, for the month of September alone… Then you’ve got the people who come by vehicle. And it is packed. And that is a concern.”

Jim agrees with the Fish’n Canada co-hosts that the biggest reason for the backlash is the timing. Early in the year, a similar decision was made to close public access to the Ganaraska during the spring trout season. This decision, though controversial, was easier to accept by locals anglers, Jim admits, because there was still so much uncertainty about the virus. Now, people see the decision to close access to the Ganaraska River as being in conflict with the current trend of easing restrictions.

“As much as our health officials are saying… we can loosen restrictions, we’re not out of the woods,” Jim says. “And that’s been made very clear by health [officials]. We need to be diligent and we need to continue to ensure that people are practicing safe social distancing and following all the guidelines of Health Canada. We’re seeing an uptick already in Ontario now. And [we know] full well, from what health officials are telling us, that the likelihood of a second wave this fall, in September, is extremely high, especially with the kids going back to school. These are all the deciding factors.”

We Are Still In A Pandemic

Jim reminds viewers about the sheer volume of outsiders that could potentially bring COVID-19 into the community. “We’re not talking about the spring trout fishing with a few hundred anglers; we’re literally talking about thousands and thousands of people descending on Port Hope… We are still in a pandemic, no matter how you cut it. And this probably is not the right time to be inviting people to come to our community in such large numbers.”

Check out the video above for the full interview with Jim. During the nearly hour-long conversation, Jim addresses questions and concerns about the closure. He also talks at length about the local fishery and community events—like the popular Float Your Fanny Down the Ganny.

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