t is with sadness that I write about the death of one of the titans who did much to advance the cause of recreational fishing in the marine waters of Canada and especially British Columbia – Bob Wright.
I first met Bob when I became a member of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board (SFAB) in the late 1970s where I represented the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF). As the years passed I worked with him on many occasions when we represented recreational fishing interests in such groups SUCH as federal Ministers Advisory Council (MAC), Pacific Salmon Commission (PFC) and International Pacific Halibut Conference Board (IPHCB).
In all the years we shared meeting events we never had a cross word with each other, although there were times when we were on the edge of differing solutions to the same problem. This could have led to a violent disagreement on either one of our parts. Jimmy Gilbert, a mutual friend and member of the SFAB, once said to me – “Ralph, you and Bob should share a day or two in the same boat and you would get to really know each other.”
It never happened and now it is too late. We shared a mutual passion for recreational fishing. Bob took his passion and built a successful business empire based on serving the needs of marine recreational anglers.
On one occasion we were travelling together on a lobbying trip to Ottawa we had time to just visit and talk about our love of fishing. He expressed a desire to learn more about the skills of casting a fly and we left it that Elaine and I would visit his resort in the Caribbean where I could share some casting skills.
Due to conflicting schedules we never pulled it off. What I came away with from this unfilled event was that there was much more to Bob Wright’s love of fishing than catching big salmon and making money running a huge business enterprise.
While attending meetings where Bob was participating in the often passionate debates on the rights of recreational anglers it was very evident that he left no turf for those with whom he disagreed. The debates sometimes took the qualities of a blast furnace and more than a little of the steel in the recreational swords that were fashioned in this ongoing debate for the rights of ordinary Canadians to their fish was tempered in these occasions.
It was black or white and heaven help you if you were on the receiving end of one of Bob’s emotionally charged defences of recreational fishing as policy making members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) often discovered. As I grow older I find it easier to defend much of what Bob so eloquently defended when fighting for the constitutional rights of Canadians to recreationally angle for fish in our marine waters.
Much of the gains of recreational fishing rights came about because of this titan’s passion, courage and dedication. As recently as this past week Judge Rennie ruled that the Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield did indeed have the right to allocate the common property resource, Pacific halibut, back to the recreational fishery from the commercial sector.
One of modern society’s ways of measuring a person’s impact is to refer to their contribution in terms of the size of their footprints. Bob’s footprints will indeed be measured as large. The footprints of his business network is international, while much of it was centred on recreational fishing. It is often observed that money talks – Bob Wright talked with a loud and generous voice when he gifted $11 million to the University of Victoria to establish the Bob Wright Centre – Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
His ongoing legacy will be measured in many ways and his generous gift to UVic will be enduring. I also suggest that his lifelong defence of recreational angling will be equally durable. The picture with this column is symbolic of his vision with the old growth timber in the background of the light at Cape Caution – he was a visionary.
This column sends sympathy to his widow Yun and his family – you lost a husband and father; we lost a visionary and old growth warrior for recreational fishing.
Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.