Edmonton

Lac La Biche County left reeling over fishing derby dispute

The Lac La Biche fishing derby has been running since the 1960s but is in danger of not happening this weekend because of what seem to be issues over the permit for the event.

Organizers unsure event will happen after government initially cuts bait

The Lac La Biche fishing derby has been an event celebrated in the county since the 1960s. (thingstodoinlaclabiche.com)

A time-honoured northern Alberta family fishing derby that has run for more than 50 years is in danger of being cancelled this weekend.

The 53rd annual fishing derby, a big part of the Lac La Biche powwow days event and a local summer highlight, may not happen.

Lac La Biche Mayor Omer Moghrabi said losing the derby would be a huge blow to the county's economy.

"I'm extremely disappointed," said Moghrabi.

The mayor said people plan their vacations around the event. He thinks many will go fishing in Saskatchewan this coming weekend instead after hearing the derby was cancelled.

Lac La Biche Powwow Association organizers are reluctant to discuss why the derby is off this year but have said their current board is not to blame.

An ad for the Lac La Biche fishing derby in 2014. Mayor Omer Moghrabi said families from around Alberta plan their vacations around the powwow weekend. (Lac La Biche Powwow and Fish Derby Association)

They said they heard from the Alberta Government in mid-June they would not get a permit to stage the event.

Nobody at the association explained the reason but people in the area think it's because the event was advertised before a permit had been issued by Alberta Environment and Parks.

Moghrabi said losing the derby would be a big blow to businesses.

"It affects all our businesses, from restaurants and grocery stores, everything that usually goes with a very active tourist town," he said.

Moghrabi, who has been mayor since 2014, said he was expecting a backlash from people in the area and had already heard from some who were upset about possibly losing an event that has been a fixture since the 1960s.

Fishing derby organizers said the event attracts families from across the province, with from 20 to 50 boats competing for prizes for the biggest pike and perch at Beaver Lake.

Last year, the top prizes for biggest pike and perch were $1,000 each. The event is entirely catch and release.

Mayor said last minute talks could save event

Organizers and the mayor think it's too late to save the event, which was supposed to start Friday, with registration scheduled after the parade.

One day after CBC News placed calls to the province, the mayor said he had been contacted by the government and told everything was being done to issue a permit so the event could still go ahead.

The Alberta Government is working on an official response.

Organizers are pleased to hear there's still a chance but said it would be a scramble to pull it off at this late stage.

They said they would have to rush to get a number of things in place to handle registrations, arrange for boats to monitor the water, to collect prizes and get volunteers to measure fish.

Organisers said the Powwow days event will go ahead as normal including the opening parade on Friday and the carnival. (thingstodoinlaclabiche.com)

The association thinks the event can still be a success without the fishing derby, with the carnival still happening, as well as a number of things celebrating Indigenous culture over the three-day event.

gareth.hampshire@cbc.ca

@cbcgareth

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