Tseshaht determined to fish this summer, regardless of DFO restrictions

Eric Plummer, June 27, 2017

A meagre sockeye salmon run this spring prohibited catching the species in the Alberni Inlet and Somass River (Uu-a-thluk file photo).

Tsaxana — 

After a complete closure to the Alberni Inlet and Somass River this spring to protect returning Barkley Sound sockeye, this summer the Tseshaht First Nation is planning to fish for other salmon species in their territories, regardless of upcoming decisions by the DFO.

This was the message given by the First Nation’s manager of fisheries during the Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries that took place June 14 and 15 in Tsaxana, near Gold River, B.C. Amid a growing need in the community for  fish, Tseshaht has submitted an access request for salmon other than Barkley sockeye and groundfish for Area 23, as well as the offshore Area 123 west of Barkley Sound.

“You’re never going to tell a Tseshaht person that they can’t fish in their own territory,” said Tseshaht fisheries manager Andy Olsen. “They plan to fish in Barkley Sound.”

Historically salmon runs in the Somass River often exceed 750,000 adult fish, but this year the Department of Fisheries and Oceans forecasted a meagre return of 172,000. With commercial and recreational boats looking to alternative harvest opportunities as well, Olsen cautioned that the DFO might have to make adjustments to how many these users are permitted to catch after the needs of the Tseshaht community are met.

“They can catch as many fish as they want in their own territory, as long as it doesn’t impact conservation,” he said of Tseshaht fishers. “If that impacts other users, then that’s what’s going to happen and adjustments are going to have to be made.”

DFO representatives attended the fisheries forum to hear the concerns of Nuu-chah-nulth Nations, including Averil Lamont, a manager of policy analysis and treaty support with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Lamont said the next step is for the federal department to assess Tseshaht’s needs.

“Step one is what’s happening right now; Tseshaht has put in a request to the department for greater access,” she said, noting that the First Nation will have to decide how closely it follows the DFO’s procedures. “It’s really Tseshaht’s decision as to how long they’re going to be within that process.” 

The Council of Ha’wiih was hosted by the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, drawing participation from Nuu-chah-nulth Nations that are keenly watching fisheries throughout Vancouver Island.

Hesquiaht Chief Councillor Richard Lucas expressed concern over the federal department’s licence requirement for his people to fish in their territory.

“It’s my right. I don’t need a letter or a licence to go out and do that,” he said.

Kiista (Keith Atleo), Ahousaht Aww-uup-a-wiik, said the DFO’s governance over First Nations’ waters is disrespectful.

“Before Europeans came we had protocols in place,” he said. “I can’t tell another Ha’wiih how to govern, and this is what DFO is doing to us. They’re questioning our protocols; it’s none of their business.”

Michael Maquinna, Tyee Ha’wilth of the hosting Mowachaht/Muchalaht expressed the need for his First Nation to manage the limits of its own fishery.

“The system cannot afford to supply other Nations with the resources, because if we do then the system dies,” he said. “It’s not there for any commercial use at all. We’ve distinguished that amongst ourselves here.”

Laura Brown, DFO’s area director for the Pacific’s south coast, said she agreed with the need for the federal department to understand the needs of First Nation communities. But nothing will be sustainable without conservation measures, she said.

“At the end of the day, it’s still the ministry’s responsibility to manage the resource, and that’s not just about managing fisheries,” said Brown. “Conservation comes first…then the food needs of First Nations - that’s a constitutional right, then commercial and recreational.”

“It’s the obligations of the government to meet the needs of the communities, not to meet the needs of the commercial fishermen or the sport fishermen,” noted Olsen. “The only people that have their rights protected to fish are sitting at this table.”