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

B.C.’s public health restrictions on non-essential travel are reinforced by orders effective April 23, 2021 to stay within your own regional health authority except for essential travel such as work and medical appointmens. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 non-essential travel ban takes effect, $575 fines approved

Checks on highways, ferries between Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Interior

Kimberley case counts not at the point for 18 years and older community vaccination, says Interior Health. (File photo)
Many factors considered for smaller community-wide vaccination: Interior Health

East Kootenay resort town’s COVID-19 situation not at the point of community-wide vaccination, say officials

The BC Wildfire Service is urging caution amid forecasts of strong winds throughout the Kamloops Fire Centre. (BC Wildfire Service photo)
Strong winds forecasted for Kamloops Fire Centre, BC Wildfire service urges caution

“Wind can cause grass fires to spread very quickly,” says the BC Wildfire Service

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

The freed osprey keeps a wary eye on its rescuers after being deposited on its nest. (Photo credit: Greg Hiltz)
Hydro crew in Ashcroft gets osprey rescue call-out they won’t soon forget

Bird was tangled in baling wire hanging from a hydro pole, necessitating a tricky rescue

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

As the snow in Manning Park melts, searchers are able to get a little farther each day. Photo submitted
Family resumes search for son missing in Manning Park since October

‘This is our child, and we don’t give up on our children,’ said mother of Jordan, Josie Naterer

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada buys 65M Pfizer booster shots for protection against COVID-19 variants

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the deal with Pfizer includes options to add 30 million doses in both 2022 and 2023, and an option for 60 million doses in 2024

A plan flew over the Lower Mainland with a sign expressing some Canucks fans’ discontent with the team’s general manager. (Niqhil Velji - Twitter Screenshot)
#FireBenning movement gets off the ground in Metro Vancouver

Canucks fans raise enough money to fly banner over Metro Vancouver asking for team GM to be canned

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks to media at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday February 5, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to announce travel restrictions today to limit COVID-19 spread

Mike Farnworth is expected to give details of what the government views as essential travel

Richard Desautel with supporters outside the courthouse in Nelson, B.C., in 2016. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
UPDATED: Sinixt, First Nation bordering Canada-U.S., can claim Indigenous rights, top court rules

The decision essentially reverses a 1956 declaration the Sinixt were extinct

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

Most Read