Fish pond in sanctuary doesn't fly with neighbours

Hastings Park stocks pond with sterilized trout for public fishing

Community members say the PNE and Vancouver Park Board are on the hook for something fishy going on at Hastings Park.

Sherry Breshears, with the Hastings Community Association, said when the PNE first proposed an urban fishing program in 2012, including a pier, for the pond located within the Sanctuary at Hastings Park, several groups wrote letters to the park board outlining their concerns. The PNE partnered with Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. to develop the program, which saw the pond recently stocked with sterilized trout. The board of the PNE includes a representative from city council, Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie who sits as chair, and park board general manager Malcolm Bromley who sits as vice-chair.

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"After we heard about the project the [Hastings Park Conservancy] did some research on the effects it would have on bird and water life and discovered it wasn't a good idea," said Breshears. "But the PNE ignored those warnings."

The conservancy listed several concerns, including one that the installation of the pier and increased noise and human activity is disruptive to ducks and other aquatic birds nesting on the secluded north end of the pond.

Breshears said the association, the conservancy and Friends of Hastings Park wrongly assumed that because of their concerns the PNE and city would hold off on introducing the program. So members were surprised when the spring/summer program guide at the Hastings Community Centre included "Learn to Fish" courses beginning June 11. The course description reads in part, "All sessions run at the north end of the Sanctuary Pond in Hastings Park and are free but you must sign up in advance. This is a Vancouver Park Board Program..."

But according to the park board, the PNE still falls solely under the management of the city, so information about the program must come from that source. Vision Vancouver park board chair Sarah Blyth, who also sits on the PNE's board, did give the program her full support.

Blyth, who had just returned days before from a fishing trip with her young son, said the sport taught him many skills and gave him confidence.

"It was wonderful to see my son learning about environmental systems and how birds eat fish," said Blyth. "It also teaches kids about where their food comes from and the circle of life."

Blyth noted there are 50 children registered for the Learn to Fish program, which speaks to the popularity of such a course. "Sometimes it's hard to get kids attention when it comes to environmental education," said Blyth. "But it's exciting for children to catch fish."

But Leah Sonne, a regular visitor to Hastings Park, is already seeing problems. Sonne said picking up abandoned fishing hooks and line has become commonplace during her daily walks through the park.

"It's an ongoing danger to birds," said Sonne. "I find line and hooks stuck in trees, which can get trapped in their wings."

Sonne added this past weekend there were many people fishing the pond in restricted nesting areas. "The definition of a sanctuary is a place for growth and nesting," said Sonne. "Not fishing."

The lack of an environmental study also has the groups concerned, but Dave Hutch, project manager for the Hastings Park Master Plan, said such studies aren't required for man-made lakes.

He added new signs and the presence of "ambassadors" from Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. will ensure people comply with the area restrictions while fishing. "And people fishing in restricted areas will be asked to comply or leave," said Hutch.

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