Tshilhqot’in Tribe President Joe Alphonse calls for a seat in bilateral negotiations between Canada and the United States to address Alaska fishermen who intercept salmon in the rivers of British Columbia.
BC First Nation calls on Canadian government to take action on reports that Alaskan fishermen are intercepting salmon bound for BC.
In a press release on Friday, the Tshilhqot’in nation said it was “outraged” by a recent report detailing Alaskan catches of various salmon species before returning to BC rivers to spawn.
Canada is being asked to create an independent review of the Pacific Salmon Treaty and “the failure of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to significantly represent the interests of First Nations” at the international table.
“This is outrageous,” Tribal President Joe Alphonse said in a written statement. “Our nation has made great sacrifices to preserve salmon over the years.”
The call comes a day after a report by Watershed Watch Salmon Society and the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust released that Alaska fishermen caught 800,000 sockeyes in 2021 on the U.S.-Canada border. Of these, more than half a million intercepted salmon returned home to the Skeena and Nass rivers of BC.
On the Skeena River alone, it is believed that 486,000 sockeyes were intercepted on their way home from Alaska. That represents at least $ 6 million for local fishermen.
“It would have been huge … We’re talking about a couple of hundred whitish nets up there that have had zero revenue,” said Greg Taylor, one of the report’s longtime commercial fisheries consultants and consultants. and First Nations.
“These people are not rich people. They are people sitting on the beach of Northern First Nations communities; $ 6 million in cash … we’re talking about the difference between having a reasonable life and a reasonable income. to have nothing “.
It is believed that countless other salmon were intercepted on their way south: the Fraser River and the west coast of Canada and the United States.
BC salmon populations have plummeted to record lows in recent years. In response, the federal government closed 60 percent of BC’s commercial salmon harvest in June 2021 and announced a 647 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative repurchase program. dollars.
Alphonse said the Tshilhqot’in nation has implemented closures and denied its citizens their aboriginal right to fish.
“While hundreds of thousands of salmon destined for BC are being harvested for commercial fishing in U.S. waters, Tshilhqot’in families have gone hungry and denied their aboriginal right to fish,” a spokesman added. of the nation.
This is not the first time Alaskan fishermen have been suspected of intercepting salmon on their way to BC spawning grounds. The Tshilhqot’in Nation says that in 2019, Alaska fishermen caught 45,000 of their salmon in one year, only 158,000 returned. This represents 20 percent of the entire career.
A spokesman for the nation said the repeated “over-exploitation in Alaska’s waters is threatening the future existence of these populations.”
Alphonse called for an immediate review of how the Pacific Salmon Treaty is structured, so that First Nations play a more important role in international negotiations.
“We demand our own seat on the Pacific Salmon Commission to directly represent our Chilko fishery,” he said.
Since 1985, the Canada-US Pacific Salmon Treaty has been in place to address international fisheries imbalances, prevent overfishing and ensure that both countries receive the same benefits from healthy salmon stocks. Over the last three decades, new agreements have been reached every 10 years. But the latest agreement was signed in 2019 and the Pacific Salmon Treaty will not be renewed until 2028.
In an email to Glacier Media, the press secretary of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard said that DFO officials are aware of the report and are reviewing it.
“We know how important it is to protect and restore the Pacific salmon population,” said DFO Press Secretary Claire Teichman.
A spokesman for BC’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries said the ministry will review the report with its federal colleagues and continue to work with other governments to reduce bycatch in salmon, halibut and trawl fisheries. ‘Alaska.
Part of the problem boils down to failed conservation attempts: the federal government’s long-term mismanagement of west coast salmon fishing and poor forestry practices have played an important role in preventing the next generation of fish.
Canada’s Pacific salmon populations have dropped to such low levels that those returning from Alaska’s waters are becoming more important each year.
At the same time, climate change makes the water in the oceans and rivers warmer and this creates great variability in how many salmon survive.
When warm plumes of ocean water, such as the “Blob,” swell in the North Pacific, salmon that migrate to their native rivers tend to follow the cold water.
As a result, they often return from a more northwesterly direction, hitting the rugged coastline of Alaska and descending into Canadian waters. That is, until a network intervenes.
Taylor says warming oceans also causes salmon to arrive later, so the bilateral treaty offers less protection for fish destined for Canada.
Once they land on the Alaskan coast, there are also gaps in regulation between Canadian and U.S. fishermen. While in BC, fishermen are licensed to harvest specific species, in Alaska, broad licenses mean that fishermen do not have to report their by-catches of non-target species and much of what is thrown in the dead. to the water.
The impacts are cascading throughout the BC natural environment.
Many of the rivers where salmon will spawn in northern BC depend on salmon as the basis of the entire food chain. Bones and birds are fed, and when they die, the corpses litter the forest and fill the rivers with nutrients.
At sea, coho salmon is the main food source for southern resident killer whales. But according to Kurt Beardslee of the Wild Fish Conservancy, only three percent of the chinook caught in southeast Alaska comes from the Alaskan rivers. The other 97 percent come from BC, Washington and Oregon, where if they could make the trip, they would help keep the endangered species alive.
According to Beardslee, the only way to resolve the cross-border conflict is to link fishing licenses to rivers where they spawn. In this way, coastal communities will have more incentives to protect river ecosystems.
“When these coastal communities are doing their best to protect their habitats, and the fate of their fish stocks passes over the sea or in another country, a very good scenario is not set,” he said.
“Up and down the coast. Measures like this must be applied. “
In 2020, the Washington-based organization sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for violations of the Endangered Species Act. In September, a judge ruled that the U.S. agency had violated the law when it authorized commercial salmon harvesting in southeast Alaska.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration violations resulted in the approval of new federal-backed massive hatchery programs that were based on an underdeveloped plan to ensure the health of future salmon populations in the southeast. ‘Alaska.
The case is still going through the US judicial system.
As for Alphonse and the Tshilhqot’in nation, ensuring the survival of their fish is cut at the heart of their rights and titles, all options, including taking the matter to court, he said, are on the table.
“We can’t wait to fix it: it has too many consequences for indigenous peoples who depend on salmon for sustenance, our economy and our ability to pass on our culture to future generations,” the tribal president said.
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