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Heiltsuk Nation continues to see salmon decline on Central Coast

‘The only species that had a strong return were the pink salmon’: William Housty
Heiltsuk Nation integrated resource management staff do a creek walk this season checking for salmon near Bella Bella. (Howard Humchitt photo)

Salmon stocks continue to decline on the Central Coast, with some small silver linings, said the associate director of the Heiltsuk Nation integrated resource management department.

“The only species that had a strong return were the pink salmon,” William Housty told Black Press Media.

“They were in higher numbers than normal but the sockeye, coho and chum were down.”

Thankfully, Housty said, the drastic low water condition seen last year in the Neekas River that resulted in thousands of dead salmon was not the case this year.

There was a good amount of rain throughout in September and October providing the creeks with a fairly consistent water volume.

Housty said pink salmon run on two-year cycles, rather than the four-year cycles of other salmon.

“In the odd years we have seen a bolster in pink salmon populations.”

Based on that trend, the next boost will be in 2025, he said.

“It is interesting the pink operate on a different timeline.”

For the third consecutive year, there were no commercial licenses issued for areas 6, 7 and 8.

“We have been able to work with DFO to have the entire region closed for all commercial fisheries to give salmon the opportunity to thrive,” Housty said. “ I know there was some fisheries that happened further inland from the Bella Coola area, but those were targeted fisheries with the hatchery fish.”

He is concerned, however, about the amount of fish being caught through recreational fishing, he said.

It is not so much that anybody is doing anything wrong because all boats coming through obtain a fishing licenses and following the guidelines, he added.

“I think close to a thousand vessels passed through Bella Bella last year. Each one is taking a couple of salmon a day while they are through. It adds up to a huge amount coming out of the water.”

On Nov. 1, Housty was out walking with his family on a local creek and noticed a lot of fish carcasses had already washed out of the creek.

“I think the bears have already started to move toward the dens or will be pretty soon.”

So too technical crews have finished up their duties in the field for the season and will now turn to compiling data and planning for next year.

Two and a half years ago, the Heiltsuk Nation purchased Shearwater Resort and Marina which includes a 63-acre resort, marina and related businesses.

Running the resort has been a “bit of a learning curve” for the nation, Housty said.

“We did not operate the sports fishery that normally comes out of there for conservation reasons. I think they are kind of moving down the road of doing eco-tourism out of there.”

The purchase has allowed the Heiltsuk to build capacity in a lot of areas, he said, adding well over 50 per cent of the people working there now are Heiltsuk people.

Everyone needs to do their part to allow the salmon stocks to come back so everyone can thrive on them whether it is for food, commercial or economic reasons, Housty said.

“We are all so dependent on them. We all need to find a way to play our part in that.”

When asked about his favourite salmon to eat, he replied chum, barbecued over the fire.

READ MORE: B.C. Indigenous leaders don’t want to let feds off the hook on fish farms

READ MORE: First Nations seek salmon return to Columbia Basin in new treaty with U.S.

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