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First Nations don't want a chinook fight

Mar 29 2012

First Nations from Vancouver Island and around the Fraser River want to meet with sports fishers to decide how best to protect the diminishing stocks of Fraser River-bound chinook salmon.

"We don't want to fight with them, we want to sit down and see how we can work together for conservation," said Ernie Crey, fisheries adviser to the Sto: lo Tribal Council.

"To do that, we need to be in a room together."

Technical staff and biologists from the bands and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans should also be in attendance, Crey said.

Representatives of 94 bands met with DFO officials last week on the Tsawout reserve and signed a letter of understanding on salmon management.

The letter "confirms their commitment to work together on a government-to-government basis."

The co-operative management agreement is in contrast to an earlier meeting DFO held with angry sports fishers on southern Vancouver Island.

At that meeting, about 400 anglers voiced objections to any further cuts to the summer chinook fishery in Juan de Fuca Strait and said they would not agree to more restrictions until DFO came up with better data and a recovery plan that includes habitat protection and hatchery enhancement.

Some speakers said they were shocked at the amount of chinook taken in the Fraser River net fishery.

Much of that fishery is conducted by First Nations, who, after sufficient fish reach the spawning grounds, have priority for a food and ceremonial fishery.

First Nations have already been told that late June is the earliest there could be a chinook fishery, Crey said.

"And that's not a certainty, but we want to err on the side of conservation and then work on getting more data."

Over the past decade, First Nations on the Fraser have forfeited 80 per cent of the chinook fishery even though many First Nations families rely on salmon, Crey said. "And we are prepared to do more, but it doesn't do us any good to go it alone. We have to talk to other groups and say, 'As hard as it might be, could you make further adjustments in your fishery,' " he said.

One group involving all sectors is already operating on the Lower Fraser, he said.

Christopher Bos, chairman of the Victoria Sports Fishing Advisory Board Committee, said his group would be happy to meet with First Nations.

"Any discussion among sectors is always helpful," he said.

Conservation is a priority, he said, but anglers agreed to cuts two years ago.

Preliminary figures from DFO showed those changes resulted in a 50 per cent reduction in the catch on the low-chinook runs, but DFO won't confirm those figures now, Bos said.

"We want to know the real status of the stock and impact from the reductions two years ago," he said.

Anglers do not want to stop First Nations from conducting their food and ceremonial fishery, Bos said.

"We want DFO to do something about the root of the problem. - We don't want DFO saying they can just cut our fishery to manage low abundance."

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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