Shuswap Nation Tribal Council has joined other B.C. First Nations in calling for immediate and strong conservation measures to preserve dwindling stocks of early-run Fraser chinook.
The council wants closure of saltwater-based sport and commercial salmon fisheries until June to save the stocks from extirpation.
Other native groups, the Nicola Tribal Association among them, are calling for the resignation of Gail Shea, federal fisheries minister, for her department’s failure to effectively manage chinook.
First Nations of the Fraser and its tributaries have agreed not to fish for chinook between April and June as spawners return to natal waters.
“From 1997 to 2009, the number of spawners has plunged by 80 per cent,” said Chief Wayne Christian, spokesman for the SNTC. “Closure of saltwater-based sport and commercial salmon fisheries until June is the first act to take to save this stock,” he added.
Secwepemc have long taken action to protect and conserve salmon, he noted. Skeetchestn Indian Band has closed fishing on its early run chinook in Deadman Creek since the mid-1980s. Measures such as these come at a cost.
“Early-run chinook formed a substantial portion of the springtime diet of the Secwepemc,” Christian said. “Losing this natural food source creates an economic burden for our people,” he added.
There is a profound impact on Secwepemc language and culture.
“If you can’t go fishing, you lose an important opportunity to participate in family activities, like storytelling, and to speak in Secwepemctsin,” Christian said.
“Our salmon, our language, our way of life are all connected. We’re at a critical threshold that we may not recover from unless action is taken now,” he added.
Chinook are the largest species of salmonids and are, therefore, more vulnerable not only to harvesting but to fluctuations in river levels and water temperature.