Darren Haskell misses the smell of the smokehouse in his community where fisheries remain closed.
The Tl’azt’en Nation fishery manager is hopeful this year could be the year where salmon have made a rebound following the devastating Big Bar landslide near Lillooet.
“The last two years we’ve been coming off run returns of 89 fish in 2019, and in 2020 we only had 30 confirmed returns,” he said.
The Indigenous community near Fort St. James reaffirmed the closure of its fisheries in a notice posted to its Facebook page earlier this month.
Haskell said this year they are hoping for a return of 18,000 but wanted to stay on the conservative side and allow everything to come back and spawn.
“With those two numbers in previous years, we were looking at extinction-level events on the yearly Stuart, so it was a no-brainer for us to announce that we’re keeping our fisheries closed until further notice,” he added.
“We’re hopeful with the late Stuart run this year there will be enough for us to able to fish, and that’s kind of what we’re keeping our fingers crossed for.”
Fisheries within Tl’azt’en Nation have been closed in previous years, including 2019 and 2020.
They are currently watching several pilot projects in neighbouring communities, including Nadleh Whut’en and Takla where salmon hatchery programs have been launched using C-Cans that can hold up to 100,000 salmon each.
“We’re hoping to join in the project and get a hatchery of our own running up here,” Haskell said.
Not having the fisheries open has meant hardship for Tl’azt’en members who have not been able to get out on the lake and practice teachings and knowledge shared from elders, such as drying and canning fish.
The nation was fortunate to receive fish last year from the Lake Babine Nation although Haskell noted they cannot depend on that as the Babine River salmon have also experienced their own set of challenges.
Last month the Pacific Salmon Commission said all salmon arriving at Big Bar seemed to be able to pass the slide using the nature-like fishway, and that there was no delay in the upstream salmon migration.
Warm and low water, however, continue to affect the runs.
“We need one of these runs to be really strong for us, and I think this year might be it,” Haskell said of the late Stuart sockeye.