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OPINION – B.C.’s salmon emergency highlights cultural divide between DFO and First Nations – Fraser River First

Fraser Valley (Murray Ned, Lower Fraser First Nations) – Representatives of Fraser River First say a fundamental disconnect between Indigenous values and federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans priorities is delaying a collaborative response to the salmon crisis.

“They’re telling us to throw dead salmon back in the water” says Ken Malloway, co-chair of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA), an organization which helps serve the fishing and conservation interests of 23 First Nations in the lower Fraser region. He’s referring to a recent DFO management decision that demands complete non-retention of the few sockeye that might be intercepted as bycatch in the limited Food, Social and Ceremonial chinook fisheries happening this summer – even those that are already dead by the time they are retrieved on the boat.

“We are taught not to waste anything” explains Malloway. “It’s a legal principle our people have abided by for millennia. Now we’re being asked to change our cultural ways and bear the brunt of conservation – we have entire generations of children missing out on these traditions, and for what? The salmon are still disappearing.”

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 salmon that might otherwise be Fraser River bound. Unlike current Fraser First Nation fisheries, there are no in-season controls of the marine sport fishery, meaning that DFO doesn’t monitor how many fish are caught while the season is underway. (Data collection last season was further hampered by COVID-19 safety protocols, so DFO’s marine recreational fishery decisions are now being made on data that is 2 years old.)

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 are supposed to take precedence.

The dry rack fishery, one of the most important local FSC fisheries, involves the same sockeye that must now be thrown back into the water, dead or alive. Traditionally, early run sockeye are caught and air-dried in camps along the riverbank, preserved by warm

summer air for food in the winter months. Only a handful of Stó:lō families are still able to maintain the tradition – and it’s been years since the Department has allowed them to conduct it.

Murray Ned, Executive Director at the LFFA, says Nations often struggle to understand the reasons behind management actions made by the department and though an official Reconciliation Strategy and Action Plan was implemented in 2019, DFO’s relationship with First Nations remains fraught.

“Nations are supportive of ensuring conservation is implemented for salmon stocks of concern and they are doing their part to advocate for limited-to-no impacts on these stocks. Despite our shared interests, we usually find out about DFO decisions a few days before they happen. The idea of co-management is dead in the water.” says Ned.

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