Twenty years is long enough.
At least this is what Peter Erickson, Nak’azdli band councillor feels.
According to Erickson, the Nak’azdli, based on information from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), almost stopped completely their traditional fishing of the late Stuart sockeye salmon runs.
But after 20 years, the stocks are not rebuilding, which Erickson blames on DFO’s management.
According to Erickson, while Nak’azdli and other First Nations “were trying to rebuild the runs by lowering their fishing amounts for 20 years, and DFO all they did was allow the commercial fishery to take more fish.”
Not this year though.
Instead of limiting themselves to what they have been, members of the band will be fishing for one fish per person per week.
This could mean over 55,000 fish.
But Erickson says this is still a “starvation level” for his community, which he says took over 250,000 fish out of the Stuart River every year.
Erickson expressed concern over the loss of traditional fishing skills in the next generation, and hopes the resumption of traditional levels will help rebuild the skill level within his community.
The band will resume fishing at the start of July, once the early Stuart runs have finished.
“If the fish are going to be fished, we’ll fish them,” he says.
Barry Rosenberger, area director for the B.C. interior for DFO defended their management system, saying conservation is the priority.
“It’s an abundance-based management process.”
While the first objective is to meet conservation needs, Rosenberger said the second priority is the First Nations food, social and ceremonial need and then if there is an abundance above those two requirements, there are commercial and recreational fisheries.
According to Rosenberger, the harvest last year for the entire Carrier Sekani Tribal Council (CSTC) area was 8,000 to 22,000 fish.
The impact of the increased take by Nak’azdli will depend on the return, and Rosenberger says the next two years are forecasted to have lower returns, with estimates for this year ranging between one and 6.8 million fish.
Rosenberger will be meeting with the CSTC to discuss this year’s catch.
“For the most part, people are relatively consistent about the objectives we’ve got,” so we build an integrated fisheries management plan.”