The Fraser River, from Sawmill Creek near Spuzzum to Churn Creek in the north, remained closed on Monday as the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) strove to protect the small Quesnel River sockeye run.
According to Dean Allen, the area chief of resource management for DFO, early estimates of returning Quesnel sockeye sat at 1.2 million. Current estimates, now that the fish are in the river, have dropped to a mere 176,000.
The two-week closure, which began on August 14, 2013, has met with mixed success. While initially, according to DFO’s area chief of the BC Interior conservation and enforcement branch, Stu Cartwright, most people respected the closure, that compliance eroded over the last week and on Friday, August 23rd, fishing activity picked up on the Pavilion and Fountain fishing rocks.
“Fountain and Pavilion are not acknowledging our conservation concerns,” Cartwright said.
“We are actively engaged in working with the leadership of the St’at’imc and we’ve had really productive discussions with Cayoosh, Lillooet and Bridge River bands,” Cartwright added. “We are continuing to consult with the leadership.”
There is no gill netting on the Fraser River at all, due to the non-selective character of the catch. Dip netting is continuing for Chinook salmon only.
An aboriginal fishery is taking place on the Chilco River, off the main stem of the Fraser River.
Meanwhile, the St’at’imc Chiefs Council issued a press release voicing their frustration over what they see as Canada’s inaction in the face of diminishing salmon runs and increasingly impacted habitat.
The release reads, in part, “We, as St’at’imx, have been working on this issue for some time. Through our negotiations with BC Hydro, we now have continual flow in the Bridge River below the Terzaghi Dam; we now have a smolt entrainment initiative on the Seton Canal. We now have an effective fish counter at the Seton Dam and both our communities of Cayoosh and N’Quatqua manage spawning channels with limited support from DFO and the Salmon Commission.
“As well, for 30 years we have foregone fishing the Early Stuart stocks, leaving them for our northern neighbors. And recently we have undertaken the management of 18 research projects designed to rebuild the health of our rivers and salmon stocks.
“We have inserted ourselves into salmon fishery management, despite DFO’s claims of jurisdiction, because our culture depends on the health of these stocks.”
The St’at’imc Chiefs Council blames the current situation on inaction by the Harper government. While the Harper government struck the Cohen Commission in 2010, the chiefs contend that the federal government has not mandated the implementation of any of its 74 recommendations.
Chief Garry John says the continued reduction in returning salmon stocks is worrying and government’s response is frustrating. “The federal government hasn’t moved on at all on the Cohen Commission.
He says logging in the watershed, mine tailings, municipal sewage that is improperly treated, pesticides and herbicides and nitrates from manure sprayed on fields in the Fraser Valley are all contributing to declining stocks. Combined with lower water levels and elevated temperatures, he says the salmon are in peril.
“We would like to see a chemical analysis of the water in the Fraser. Its possible that the pollutants in the Fraser River are actually contributing to the higher temperatures,” Chief John said.
“Meanwhile, DFO keeps doing the same thing, year after year, for the past 100 years, and the salmon keep disappearing.”
Quoting Albert Einstein, Chief John said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
As the St’at’imc Chiefs Council continues to work toward more active participation in management of the Fraser River salmon stocks and to deal with environmental issues on the banks of the river, espousing a holistic approach to the problem, Chief John notes that much of their work ultimately benefits those living downstream.
“Downstream users, sports and commercial fisheries will ultimately benefit from our work,” he said.
As of Monday, August 26, 2013, DFO did not indicate when the river might reopen. Allen says the next sockeye run of any significance in the Lillooet area will be the autumn run to Portage Creek, which leaves the Fraser River just south of Lillooet..