Spring Chinook Salmon. (Michael Humling/ US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Spring Chinook Salmon. (Michael Humling/ US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Recreational chinook openings leave First Nations frustrated on the Lower Fraser

Limited recreational openings for chinook on the Chehalis and Chilliwack rivers being questioned

Lack of respect for First Nations fisheries priorities by federal authorities has left members of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance frustrated.

That’s how recreational openings for chinook salmon on the Chehalis and Chilliwack rivers are being characterized by the LFFA, which serves 23 First Nations on the lower Fraser River.

First Nations communities have a right to priority fishing for Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) purposes protected under the constitution. Only conservation concerns take precedence.

“It was a bit of a shock,” Tribal Chief Tyrone McNeil said about the recreational openings.

First Nations on the Lower Fraser have so far had “very limited” access to FSC fishing to feed their communities.

“We have only been permitted three chinook when there’s a death in the community, so it was a big surprise to see fishing opportunities being opened for others in our territories,” McNeil said in an LFFA release.

Salmon fishing by the recreational sector is closed on the main stem of the Fraser River for the rest of the summer – except for those limited recreational fisheries on the Chehalis and Chilliwack rivers.

The recreational openings were announced as part of the DFO management plan for Fraser chinook on June 19.

At the same time, according to a DFO backgrounder: “Very limited Fraser River FSC fisheries will be permitted into July to reduce encounters of at-risk Fraser Chinook, with opportunities to target healthy Summer 4(1) Chinook in August,” according to a backgrounder.

DFO officials will be working with Fraser River First Nations on “specific fishing opportunities,” as well.

“The challenges facing at-risk Fraser River Chinook salmon stocks are multi-faceted. The road to recovery requires a long-term view and the collaboration of all interested parties,” according to the DFO release.

Chinook salmon have been in trouble for years due to habitat destruction, over-harvesting, and the effects of climate change.

“Working with First Nations and stakeholders, we are confident we are taking steps to ensure healthier Chinook stocks while maintaining a high degree of protection for endangered Fraser River Chinook,” the DFO release continued.

Of the 13 wild chinook populations in the Fraser, only one is not at risk.

“We do this every year,” said LFFA chair Ken Malloway. “After much consultation, we wait to hear about when we’ll be able to go and get our fish for ceremonies but all of a sudden we see sport fishers going out first instead.”

The situation has been exacerbated by the Big Bar landslide, which created a barrier that stymied migrating salmon.

FSC opportunities for sockeye salmon have been closed for two years now, Malloway said, and that – combined with the added economic and health pressures of the pandemic – means his community members are more anxious than ever to fish for food.

The LFFA has repeatedly expressed concerns about recreational fisheries on B.C.’s south coast marine areas, which have been open most of the year and allowed to target chinook salmon that might otherwise be Fraser-bound.

“Tensions are rising,” Malloway added. “If we don’t find a way to work better together, some nations may begin to authorize their own fisheries.”

READ MORE: Added restrictions part of chinook plan

READ MORE: First Nation wants meeting over declining chinook


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