An abundant sockeye run on the Somass River has Nations upset by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO) attempts to block distribution of food fish for those with territory outside Barkley Sound/Alberni Inlet.
On Friday, June 23, Con Charleson of Hesquiaht was fishing on the seiner, the Princess Colleen, in Ucluelet’s Alberni Inlet territory for food and ceremonial sockeye for Ucluelet, Ehattesaht, and Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ communities. DFO seized the food and ceremonial fish at the offload plant in Ucluelet, then later released to Ucluelet First Nation the amount that DFO authorized on Ucluelet’s communal licence. DFO would not allow Ehattesaht or Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ any of the food and ceremonial sockeye their communities were expecting. Instead, DFO contacted three First Nations with territories in Barkley Sound and asked if they wanted the seized fish.
On July 8, Ehattesaht representatives approached Hupacasath’s Tyee Ha’wilth and Council requesting permission to fish 3,000 sockeye from Hupacasath territory near the Somass River. At that time, a run of more than 800,000 fish had already met and exceeded DFO’s targets for conservation. Hupacasath gave permission, but when Ehattesaht notified DFO that the Princess Colleen would be in Hupacasath waters, DFO said Ehattesaht was not permitted to fish inside Area 23.
“DFO said we couldn’t fish in the traditional territory of other First Nations,” said Lyle Billy, Ehattesaht council member. “They told us that they did not recognize the protocol agreement between Ehattesaht and Hupacasath Ha’wiih. We didn’t get word until later that DFO had boarded [Charleson’s] boat, threatened him, and told him the fish had to go to Nations with territory in Barkley Sound…they strong-armed us out of our food and ceremonial fish for the whole nation.”
“We thought we were doing the right thing by keeping DFO in the loop,” added David Miller, another Ehattesaht council member.
A letter dated July 18 from Alistair Thomson, Fish Management Coordinator for DFO, responds to Ehattesaht, saying “there is no provision for Ehattesaht fishing in Barkley Sound (Pacific Fishery Management Area 23).” The letter suggests Ehattesaht fish for Fraser sockeye in San Juan (Area 20, near Port Renfrew).
“The question everyone is asking,” said Uu-a-thluk program manager Don Hall, “is ‘why would DFO tell Ehattesaht they must stick to their own territory, and then suggest they fish outside Nuu-chah-nulth waters entirely? Not only is it more expensive for Nations to get sockeye from San Juan because of transportation costs, but the abundance of Fraser River sockeye stocks is unknown. There are a lot of weak and critical sockeye stocks in that run.”
Referring to last year’s drastic decline in Fraser sockeye, Hall points to the activities of the Cohen Commission as evidence of the instability and difficulty predicting Fraser River sockeye returns. Currently holding hearings to investigate and report on the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, the Cohen Commission is also investigating possible changes to DFO management and policies concerning the fishery.
“Ehattesaht would prefer to get their sockeye from their own territory,” Hall said. “However, in times of need, when their own runs are suffering due to no fault of their own, why shouldn’t they get their fish from the Somass run which is turning out to be much higher than DFO’s original forecast?
DFO says that First Nations food and ceremonial needs have priority after conservation, but this year, DFO is not following their own policy.”
Councillors Lyle Billy and David Miller agree. But rather than risk getting no fish for their Nation, the councillors have begun talks with the Island Marine Aquatic Working Group to find fish elsewhere. “We may have to get fish from Nanaimo,” Miller said, adding that if they do, the fish will come from Fraser sockeye runs in the end.
For now, it appears to be their only choice.
Aug. 4 estimated catch
The total run size for Somass River sockeye as of Aug. 4 was estimated at 1.1 million fish.
Harvest numbers as of the same date totalled 79,000 fish for the recreational fishery and 546,000 fish for the gillnet and seine commercial fishery.
The Tseshaht and Hupacasath estimated catch is 93,000. The catch for other Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations is 21,000.
To date, over 400,000 fish have escaped to Sproat and Great Central lakes.
Submitted by Uu-a-thluk Communications