By Dale Cory
Communications Officer/Journalist, Seabird Island Band
“You better photograph this,” suggested Fishery Officer Mike Fraser as he helped unload Sockeye salmon from the back of the DFO truck, watching as bucket after bucket was transported into the kitchen inside the Seabird Island Band office. “It doesn’t happen often.”
Christmas arrived at Seabird Island in the middle of summer, when a DFO truck, boat still in tow, pulled up to the Band office on a recent morning in late August. In the truck box was a large cooler filled with sockeye, destined for Seabird tables.
“During the course of our patrols, we do come across illegal fish. We do have seizures from time to time. In a year like this, when there’s not a lot of fish around, we try to get the fish to a food bank or a place where they are going to be put to good use. Through some of our dealings with First Nations, we’ve learned it’s important for these fish to be utilized, and not wasted,” explained Fraser. “We know there’s a funeral going on here, and it’s been a year where there’s not a lot of fish around, so the fact these fish can go to the food bank here and for the elders, it’s a feel-good for us, right? You deal with a lot of negativity for the job, so to see this fish go to good use and to the elders is fantastic.”
It can be very challenging for the Seabird community to harvest enough salmon during times of low abundance. With the fishery currently closed to everyone due to low water, high temperatures and the lack of salmon, the donation came as very welcome news to Seabird residents.
“Because of the constraints due to low run sizes, we have only had one opening for Sockeye and unfortunately, not everyone was able to harvest enough, if any, for their tables, so I am so pleased that the DFO is able to donate these fish to our Traditional Food Bank,” stated Sally Hope, the designated Fisheries Rep for the Band. “I know that Alexis Grace and her staff work really hard and do an excellent job of not only finding healthy foods for the Traditional Food Bank, but they also are very creative in finding recipes that are healthy and user friendly for their clients. I am so happy that we can build upon our relationship with the DFO in a way that benefits our community.”
Helping carry the many buckets of salmon into the Seabird Island kitchen was Jay Hope, Corporate Affairs Director, and Councillor Alexis Grace, who is the Manager for Employment, Training, and Social Development at Seabird Island.
“It’s really exciting to have DFO, when it’s often negative feelings with DFO, and upset, to have something turn out to be positive where the community is going to benefit from it,” said Grace. “These fish in particular will go to the family funeral that’s happening this weekend, and for prayers. It’s also going to the community food bank, and the rest will be frozen for ceremonial purposes.”
While there is often conflict surrounding the relationship between DFO and First Nations, Fraser believes working together with Seabird Island Band and other First Nations groups when fish are seized engages the communities, and allows for a better relationship.
“We absolutely see continuing this. We’ll run it through our management, but they’re quite supportive of programs like this. The fact it’s a bona fide food bank program, and the fish is going to the elders, absolutely, we’ve been told as long as the fish are going to a good cause, then I’m sure they’ll be supportive of us carrying this on,” summarized Fraser, who was accompanied by DFO officers Derek Ray and Doug Clift on the morning of Aug. 18. “And it’s a good relationship building exercise. In enforcement fishery, there’s always those tensions. The fish are already dead so we can’t save them, so the fact they can go to the elders and a good cause, I’m sure we’ll be continuing on as long as we can.”
That’s welcome news for Grace and her department, which can now offer jobs to Band members through the processing phase.
And an action plan was put in place immediately after the delivery was made.
“Community members are being called in and employed to cut the fish and clean the fish. And another community member is being employed to vacuum-pack the fish for us,” explained Grace. “Our youth are embedded in all of our programming, so they will be learning to cut and clean and can. As well, some income assistant clients will be coming in to can and benefit from that too.”
And with that, DFO officers were back in their truck, and off to patrol the Fraser, setting in place a plan to help feed Seabird Island Band members, and build a positive relationship with the Seabird community.