A Shore Thing: Luring Sport Fishers Back to the NWT

The ice will barely be off Yellowknife Bay when hungry multitudes descend on the Northern Frontier Visitor Centre for the second annual Great Northern Shore Lunch Cook-Off, this June 6.

There will be more of everything, promises Tracy Therrien, the centre’s executive director: more fish, more entertainment and more competitors, and more recognition, both for the event and for the territory’s sport fishing sector.

“Last year was a test for what we want to grow into a national and international event,” said Therrien, who’s hoping to recruit some celebrity judges this year.

Scott Robertson of Bluefish Services bested seven other competitors for bragging rights as the best shore lunch chef, and took away the top prize: four nights at Namushka Lodge.

The cooks fried their way through 200 pounds of Great Slave Lake’s best whitefish in 90 minutes, but a third of the crowd of 600 went away hungry, as demand far exceeded supply.

This year, Therrien expects 10 entries from the NWT, Yukon, Nunavut and maybe Alaska, and if the weather co-operates, even more Yellowknifers stopping by for a tasty shore lunch, live entertainment and an auction.

Baiting the hook

The event broke even last year, but this time around Therrien expects to show a profit. The competition has been adopted by the City and NWT Tourism as part of a $1 million push over the next three years to lure more sports anglers to the territory.

A 2012 federal report said that Canada had barely touched on the rich U.S. market, where 2006 figures showed that 32 million Americans went fishing annually, spending $58.6 billion and supporting more than 500,000 jobs.

Visits by US anglers to Canada have fallen since 2000, from 1.7 million in 2000 to just over 1 million by the end of the decade. They continue to spend large, but the $1.2 billion they spent in 2000 had dwindled to $800 million by 2010.

Spending in Canada on sports fishing in 2000 was $6.7 billion: $32.4 million of that in the NWT, $600 million in Alberta, and another $2.3 billion in Ontario.

An NWT industry survey of anglers found that they were attracted to the territory’s bounty of big fish and expert guides, loved the shore lunches, but were put off by the high cost of a northern angling adventure.

Traditional fishing lodge customers are ageing travelers, and their tastes are changing. Thirty years ago it was fishing buddies who filled the lodges; now it’s more couples looking for something different, said Richard Zieba, director of tourism and parks at Industry, Tourism and Investment.

The three-year marketing blitz is aimed at cashed-up empty-nesters with a taste for luxury in a pristine wilderness setting, and young millennials seeking adventure in the North.

“We want to raise awareness among those who can pay to play,” said Zieba.

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