Fraser Valley – In a release from the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA), Tribal chief Tyrone McNeil could hardly believe what he was reading when he opened his inbox last week and saw an email from the federal government telling him they would be opening recreational fishing on Stó:lō territory in the first few days of July.
“It was a bit of a shock” says McNeil, whose has been advocating for the health of Fraser fisheries for over 20 years. “So far this year, First Nations have had very limited access. We have only been permitted 3 Chinook when there’s a death in the community, so it was a big surprise to see fishing opportunities being opened for others in our territories.”
McNeil says a Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) official shared the 2020 recreational fishery plan with in-river First Nations less than 24 hours before it was released to the public on June 19th.
The Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance serves the interests of 23 Lower Fraser First Nations. https://www.lffa.ca/ – This catchment is from the mouth of the Fraser River to Yale.
Link to Department of Fisheries and Oceans July 19th news release:
“Government of Canada takes action to address threats to struggling Fraser River Chinook”
Link to corresponding backgrounder with management details: https://www.canada.ca/en/fisheries-oceans/news/2020/06/2020-fraser-river-chinook-salmon-management-measures.html
Under Section 35.1 of the Constitution Act, First Nations are given a legal right to priority fishing for “Food, Social and Ceremonial” (FSC) purposes. Only conservation concerns can take precedence.
The department’s 2020 management plan closes recreational salmon fisheries on the mainstem of the Fraser River for the rest of the summer but offers limited openings of these same fisheries on the Chehalis and Chilliwack rivers, nearby tributaries of the Fraser.
The Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA), an organization which serves the fishing and conservation interests of 23 First Nations in the lower Fraser region, argues that the decision to open the Chehalis and Chilliwack rivers doesn’t respect the priority of the FSC fishery needs of Lower Fraser First Nations.
“We do this every year.” says Ken Malloway, LFFA co-chair. “After much consultation, we wait to hear about when we’ll be able to go and get our fish for ceremonies but all of a sudden see sport fishers going out first instead.”
All but one of the thirteen wild Fraser River chinook salmon populations are deemed at risk by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. The situation has only been made more critical by the Big Bar landslide, which created a barrier nearly impassable by migrating salmon 64 kilometres north of Lillooet.
Malloway notes that the FSC opportunities for sockeye salmon have also been closed for two years now, and that – combined with the added economic and health pressures of the pandemic – means his community members are more anxious than ever to fish for food.
The Lower Fraser First Nations have frequently expressed concern about the marine recreational fisheries on B.C.’s south coast, which have been open most of the year and target Chinook salmon that might otherwise be Fraser River bound. There is very little monitoring of that fishery and DFO can not provide daily or weekly enumeration of the recreational catches, they say.
“Tensions are rising.” says Malloway “If we don’t find a way to work better together, Nations may begin to authorize their own fisheries.”