Minister holds closed-door session on sockeye
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea was in Vancouver to host a closed-door meeting Friday to hear feedback on the collapse of the Fraser sockeye run.
Only about 1.4 million fish made it from the just under 11 million sockeye forecast to show up, according to Pacific Salmon Commission.
“As a result, many First Nations will not have salmon this winter,” said Fraser Panel member Ken Malloway, who is also a grand chief of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, and a Sto:lo fisherman.
Malloway forfeited his chance to go fishing last week in order to meet face-to-face with Fisheries Minister Shea instead.
“I told them that the FSC (food, social, and ceremonial) needs of many communities were not going to be met this year,” Malloway said. “Last year was really bad, but this year was even worse.
More than 120 aboriginal communities rely on Fraser sockeye across B.C., with about 90 on the Fraser River itself.
“All year long the communities will have gatherings in their longhouses. Without fish I don’t know what we’re supposed to feed people. Baloney?” he said.
The by-invitation-only meeting hosted by DFO’s Pacific Region saw some First Nations, and environmental reps at the table, as well as the recreational and commercial fishing sectors.
In some recent media reports, the minister focused attention on the abundant pink salmon run of 2009, possibly to deflect the criticism about the sockeye situation.
“But not too many of our people eat pinks,” Malloway said. “By the time they get to us, the meat is white. But the female’s eggs are good for roe and are used for sushi.”
So a good pink year might mean economic opportunities for local First Nations, and possibly the commercial fleet, but it certainly doesn’t answer the First Nations’ need for food fish, he underlined. Beach seining for pinks near Chilliwack will start later this month by some Sto:lo fishers, he said.
“For us, chinook, spring, coho, are our food fish, with chum for smoking,” said Malloway. “We used to be able to go out and catch steelhead but not in recent years.”
Lot of scenarios and possible reasons for the sockeye disaster were floated, but potential fish farm implications were downplayed.
“This issue of fish farms and sea lice was raised by at least three people,” Malloway said. “It’s hard to say if there’s a smoking gun there, but it sure doesn’t look good. There’s a lot of pretty damning evidence.”
Chief Bob Chamberlin of the Kwicksutaineuk Ah-Kwa-Mish First Nation, chairman of an aquaculture working group, tried to attend the sockeye meeting in Vancouver, but was barred from entering the room by DFO staff, which angered some First Nations leaders.
The paradoxical exoneration of fish farms by DFO was brought up by Grand Chief Doug Kelly. Many don’t see how Fisheries and Oceans Canada can expect to enforce the Fisheries Act and protect the resource, while allowing salmon farms to expand up the coast and threaten the wild stocks.
“They didn’t have an answer for that one at all,” Malloway said.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly said there were two contrasting elements at the meeting, which left him “frustrated,”
“It seemed that one group, including the minister, was quite happy to fiddle while Rome burned. They clearly do not understand the depth of the crisis. Then there were others in the room who recognize we are in a crisis and that we need to take action now.”
Kelly reiterated the call for a Salmon Summit. Another First Nations rep requested an inquiry be launched.
“We need to bring the politicians, stakeholders, First Nations together to have a look at the science and management regime of the DFO,” said Kelly. “The science has been letting us down.”
Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl touched on the sockeye subject last week during a media conference call.
“It’s an important issue,” he said, “not only economically, since there’s lots of investment by the commercial and sport fishing communities, but also it’s an emotional one when there is a limited amount of fish.
“There’s huge pressure, and people feel strongly about it. It’s more than just about barbeque salmon, it’s about constitutional rights.
“So is there a better way (for DFO) to make projections? I’m not sure there is,” said Strahl. “But also don’t think this is over. The minister is very concerned about this.”
The local MP added that he couldn’t offer anything concrete other than his understanding the minister had started an “internal review” to address what happened.
A DFO media rep said she was not aware of any special internal review, but that a post-season review of what happened was an annual event.
Fisheries Minister Shea did not return repeated calls from The Progress before press firstname.lastname@example.org