B.C. Indigenous leaders call for closure of all Fraser River sockeye fisheries

Tsilhqot’in First Nations have closed salmon fishing in their traditional territory due to conservation concerns. Tsilhqot’in First Nations, known as the River People, dipnet for salmon one at a time for their main food source, as seen here in recent years on the Chilcotin River.(Gailene William/Submitted)Tsilhqot’in First Nations have closed salmon fishing in their traditional territory due to conservation concerns. Tsilhqot’in First Nations, known as the River People, dipnet for salmon one at a time for their main food source, as seen here in recent years on the Chilcotin River. (Gailene William/Submitted)
First Nations leaders in British Columbia are calling on the federal fisheries minister to issue an emergency order to close all sockeye fisheries on the Fraser River. Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials and members of the B.C. Wildfire Service move salmon in a temporary holding pen on the Fraser River near Big Bar, west of Clinton, B.C., Wednesday, July 24, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl DyckFirst Nations leaders in British Columbia are calling on the federal fisheries minister to issue an emergency order to close all sockeye fisheries on the Fraser River. Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials and members of the B.C. Wildfire Service move salmon in a temporary holding pen on the Fraser River near Big Bar, west of Clinton, B.C., Wednesday, July 24, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

First Nations groups in British Columbia are calling on the federal fisheries minister to issue an emergency order to close all sockeye fisheries on the Fraser River.

A joint news release issued by three groups that make up the First Nations Leadership Council says Bernadette Jordan should also declare the stock collapsed while their groups come together to create a strategy to save the fish.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has estimated returning sockeye would hit a record low this year, with about 283,000 fish or fewer making it from the ocean to their Fraser River spawning grounds.

Just last month, the department estimated 941,000 sockeye would return, though it noted salmon forecasts were highly uncertain, in part because of a lack of understanding of the effects of warming ocean waters.

The council, made up of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and Union of B.C. Indian chiefs, says Indigenous communities that rely on the salmon for food face the greatest impacts, but the department has consistently prioritized commercial fishing.

Representatives with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were not immediately available for comment.

Tsilhqot’in leadership in B.C.’s Interior say they have no choice but to close all salmon fishing within their territory west of Williams Lake due to the “extreme conservation concern” over the state of sockeye and chinook runs.

They are asking all members from their six communities, who rely on salmon as a main food source, to abide by the closure.

“It is a very difficult decision,” leaders noted in a statement to members Friday, Aug. 14. “We know the incredible hardship this means for our families and communities — not only the loss of food for our freezers this winter but also foregoing our rights to practice our culture and teach our young ones what it means to be Tsilhqot’in — the River People.”

Chief Roy Stump of the ?Esdilagh First Nation, which is situated between Williams Lake and Quesnel on the Fraser River, said the closure is urgently needed.

“We need to protect the salmon for future generations,” Chief Stump said.

Tsilhqot’in National Government fisheries manager Randy Billyboy said the number of sockeye salmon making a return to their rivers including the Chilcotin, Chilko, and Taseko and tributaries has been downgraded to 52,000.

A sonar population assessment on Aug. 12 at the Farwell Bridge on the Chilcotin River counted just 16 sockeye.

In terms of Chinook, fewer than 10 were spotted in the spawning grounds of the upper Chilcotin River by a flight conducted on Aug. 17.

“It is alarming,” Billyboy said, adding the upper Chilcotin River normally averages anywhere from 75 to 300 Chinook with between 1,500 to 3,000 in the lower Chilcotin River.

Read More: Five Vancouver Island First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

First Nations fishing rights are protected by the Constitution and the council says the federal government has failed in its duty to ensure they have priority access to salmon.

Robert Phillips with the First Nations Summit says Indigenous leaders have been calling on Ottawa to save the salmon for decades and it’s time for full jurisdiction over salmon stocks to be transferred back to First Nations.

Five Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island have also accused federal fisheries officials of systemic racism after the government decided to exclude them in the allocation of 15,000 extra salmon this year — a surplus that arose because fewer people were fishing recreationally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Salmon returning to the Fraser River also face the added hurdle of making it over a massive landslide along a remote stretch of the river north of Lillooet.

A pneumatic pump and tube system and the construction of a fish ladder have been installed to help salmon over the five-metre waterfall created by the slide.

In an update last week, Fisheries and Oceans said water levels have dropped sufficiently in recent days to allow fish to pass over the slide on their own steam.

In their statement to members, TNG leadership said they are hoping others will follow their lead upriver, downriver and in the ocean to protect salmon runs.

“If one person or group thinks they deserve more than the other then we are destined to lose everything.”

A Department of Fisheries document from 2017 says total adult returns of Fraser River sockeye are highly variable ranging from 2 to 28 million, with an average of 9.6 million, between 1980 and 2014.

Read More: Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw chiefs purchase salmon from Skeena River

Read More: Feds committed to protecting, restoring declining Fraser River chinook stocks says Fisheries Minister


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
rebecca.dyok@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

First Nationsfishingsalmon stocks

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Harvest Food Bank’s Zero Waste program. (Travis Winterwed file photo)
Zero waste program continues to drastically help the North Island

The zero waste program means that Save-On Foods no longer throws anything out.

Black Press file photo
Investigation at burned Vancouver Island cabin reveals human remains

“it’s believed that the owner of an SUV vehicle found parked nearby is the deceased”

The Rein Forest Riders fence in Hyde Creek was damaged by a vehicle on the night of Jan. 15. (Lynn Iskra Facebook photo)
Port McNeill RCMP looking for suspect who damaged Rein Forest Riders property in Hyde Creek

“it’s certainly unfortunate, and it’s going to be a tough one because nobody saw anything.”

PROFILE PHOTO COURTESY OF KIMBERLEY KUFAAS PHOTOGRAPHY 
Tyson’s Thoughts is a column posted online at northislandgazette.com and in print on Wednesday’s. Have some thoughts about my thoughts? Email editor@northislandgazette.com
If fish farms are phased out, what does the future hold for Port Hardy?

“I hate seeing the town I grew up in take serious economic damage”

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

Most Read