The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs are calling for collaboration from all stakeholders in the Skeena Watershed to help them develop meaningful salmon conservation framework that goes beyond government closures.
On July 26 the chiefs that make up the Gitxsan Crisis Management Team made their appeal during a press conference in Terrace to announce the extension of a fishing ban within their traditional territories. The team vented frustration when invited representatives from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and the Sports Fishery Advisory Board did not attend.
“Can’t they make time? Who’s going to argue about fish when there’s nothing left to argue about,” says Chief Robert Campbell.
“Right now we want to see who wants to collaborate. Sports fishermen, other nations, federal government, B.C. government. We are trying to reach out to anybody who is willing to listen to us, to save our fish.”
The crisis team wants to hold at least one working-group meeting per month to map out shared objectives for the 2020 fishing season in the Skeena Watershed. They hope collaboration with all levels of government will result in new management directions, updated harvest allocations and priority enhancement and restoration projects to promote healthy river levels.
“A temporary fish ban by DFO is not solving the issue,” says Brian Williams, Chair of Gengeenix. “With impacts of development along our rivers such as highways, railways, agriculture, mines and clear cutting to name a few, these are additional external factors that play a role in declining fish stocks which have been continually deteriorating over the past century.”
In May this year the Hereditary Chiefs issued a fishing closure on all salmon-bearing waterways in their territory. On Friday they extended the closure for the 2020 season. But they caution closures, whether their own or formal action by DFO, do not address the underlying issues of low numbers and want the province to take appropriate action.
“We need a plan. We need the government to sit with us and come up with a plan to save our fish,” Campbell says.
The Hereditary Chiefs first announced fishing closures in 2017. Despite neither the province or federal government recognizing the bans, they say both recreational and First Nations fishers have largely honoured their wishes.
“There’s been no problems. People have been respecting what we say,” says Chief Norman Moore. “You see very little activity from the sports fishermen. It’s very nice to see that. Sometime we see elders going on the river but we can’t deny elders [food].”
Aside from that success in Gitxsan territory, Chief Campbell added the DFO’s allowance of a recreational fishery downstream still has deep impact on the entire watershed. “It’s not helping allowing them to fish past Kitsumkalum. We’re trying to get other nations to collaborate with us because it affects everybody, not just the Gitxsan. Everybody.
“The government has not listened to any of our concerns.”