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

The District of Stewart has adopted a strategic plan for 2020/21 with six focus areas. (District of Stewart/Facebook)
Stewart adopts 2020 strategic plan

Economy, community areas of focus

Kendra Willems, seen here Nov. 5, created a Facebook page to help facilitate social supports such as clothing donations in an informal manner that supplements existing supports and charities. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)
Skeena Voices | ‘We could all use that kind of goodness’

Kendra Willems, new to Terrace, founds charitable Facebook page

Firefighters work to cool a semi truck engine that caught fire at the corner of Eby St. and Hwy 16 around 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 26
Semi truck engine catches fire in Terrace

Hwy 16 briefly closed between Sande Overpass and Eby St.

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross at his swearing in on Thursday (Nov. 26), with his wife, Tracey, left, mother, Frieda, and grandson, Parker. (Ellis Ross photo)
Ellis Ross sworn in as Skeena MLA

Ceremonies happening virtually rather than all in-person in Victoria

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

More than 60 cm of snow has fallen at Ulkatcho First Nation near Anahim Lake in the Chilcotin since a snowfall warning went into effect Thursday, Nov. 26. (Graham West photo)
VIDEO: More than 60 cm of snowfall in Chilcotin since Thursday, Nov. 26

Graham West of Ulkatcho First Nation captures the scene on video

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Most Read