The B.C. Assembly of First Nations is calling for all commercial and recreational salmon fishing on the Fraser River to stop immediately, in order to help salmon attempting to get through the Big Bar slide.
In a release, regional chief and Pacific chair of the Assembly of First Nations Fisheries Committee Terry Teegee said that all commercial and recreational fishing be closed until the landslide can be cleared.
“DFO is mismanaging the fishery and Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Wilkinson must recognize the emergency situation we are all in,” Teegee said.
Roger Augustine, regional chief for New Brunswick/P.E.I. and co-chair of the fisheries committee, agreed.
“First Nations cannot be restricted access to fish while commercial and recreational fishing is allowed to continue,” he said in the release. “We are very familiar with the collapse of the fishery on the east coast and all signs point to mismanagement by the federal government as well as their unwillingness to honour long standing treaties. The same appears to be happening with the west coast fishery.”
Some First Nations fisheries have voluntarily closed because of the slide, which created a five-metre waterfall in the Fraser River, restricting access to salmon’s spawning grounds. Other First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries are being restricted, at the same time the unregulated recreational and commercial fisheries are open, the release read.
“We are supportive of all First Nations access to salmon and aquatic resources for their food, social and ceremonial purposes,” national chief Perry Bellegarde added in the release. “The Crown cannot allow recreational and commercial fisheries to trump First Nations fisheries for their communities and Elders. This is a national emergency as it affects all parts life on the west coast.”
These comments echo ones made by Seabird Island’s Tyrone McNeil, who has been working to develop a fisheries plan for the First Nation community near Agassiz.
“We haven’t even been in the water this year,” McNeil said. “It’s significant to us because when we’re on the river fishing, we’re teaching our children how to fish, so we’re passing along inter-generational information about specific areas of the river.”
“DFO is taking that ability away from us to transfer that knowledge in an effective way,” he continued. “I think it’s going to have to come to the point where we get more proactive, and we’re out there in demonstration fisheries to catch DFO’s attention. They’re doing social and cultural harm to us as an entire people.”