Tensions rise between T’aaq-wiihak and sports fishermen in Nootka Sound

Gold River, BC

The RCMP and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation’s fisheries department are working to de-escalate tensions in Nootka Sound after recent confrontations between Nuu-chah-nulth fishers and recreational boats.

Verbal abuse, anchor lines cut, boat ramming and reports of guns being pulled; these are the stories that are trickling back to the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s fisheries department from fishermen working out of Nootka Sound. Stories, some told third-hand, drifted back to Uu-a-thluk Program Manager Eric Angel. They suggest that during an altercation with T’aaq-wiihak fishers that sports fishermen allegedly pulled a gun in recent days. T’aaq-wiihak refers to fishing with permission of the Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs).

Concerned that the violence could escalate, Angel hoped to get information out to the public before things get worse.

In 2009, the BC Supreme Court recognized the Aboriginal rights of five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations (Ahousaht, Ehattesaht/Chinekintaht, Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, and Mowachaht/Muchalaht) to catch and sell all species traditionally harvested within their territories. This ruling gives T’aaq-wiihak priority over recreational and commercial fisheries.

The First Nations’ leadership have been negotiating with DFO over the years to come up with an agreement on how their court-won right to fish and sell fish would be implemented.

Until an agreement on T’aaq-wiihak fisheries is reached, demonstration fisheries for various species, such as chinook, sockeye, coho and others are in place. These are legal and sustainable local fisheries agreed upon by the nations and DFO. The fisheries are monitored for proper management, and consist of small and medium-sized boats that are less intensive and less stressful on fish than modern industrial fishing.

While Nuu-chah-nulth fishermen are only starting to dip their toes in this hard-won aboriginal right to fish, some in other fishing sectors see it as an encroachment on their dwindling access to the resource. According to Kadin Snook, fisheries manager for the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, a small group of recreational fishermen in the area react when they believe their stocks are threatened by others. He said they are not catching fish but neither are the T’aaq-wiihak fishermen.

“The fish are just not there,” he told Ha-Shilth-Sa.

The altercation was reported to have been between Mowachaht/Muchalaht members taking part in the T’aaq-wiihak fishery in Nootka Sound and sports fishermen. The incident was reported to Ha-Shilth-Sa on Aug. 1.

But a phone call to Nootka Sound RCMP Sergeant Joshua Wiese proved that while an altercation did take place, no firearms were involved.

Sergeant Wiese acknowledged that tensions are high between some T’aaq-wiihak fishermen and sports fishermen in Nootka Sound, but he warned that there are two sides to the story and both need to be heard.

Wiese has viewed video footage of the confrontation and can confirm that no boats were rammed and no guns were involved, however, there have been verbal confrontations and mischief in the form of cut anchor lines to fish nets.

“I saw the video and it’s emotional on both sides,” said Wiese. “The rec guys (sports fishermen) are just mad because they’re catching next to nothing and First Nations are having the same luck – they’re barely catching enough in a day to pay for their fuel.”

Add to the mix reported alcohol use and things got hot real fast.

It’s easy to blame when you’re fueled up with booze…‘Oh these guys with nets’,” said Wiese.

Snook confirmed that a gun wasn’t pulled but a recreational fisherman known in the Gold River community made a comment about a shotgun that was not captured on video. Snook also confirmed that it appeared the recreational fisherman was under the influence of alcohol.

In addition to the verbal threats, Snook said that there have been gear conflicts where recreational fishing gear has gotten entangled in T’aaq-wiihak nets, causing damage.

The RCMP is investigating reports of net anchor lines being cut. Wiese indicated that if enough information is gathered the RCMP will recommend criminal charges against the perpetrators.

The RCMP is working with staff at Mowachaht/Muchalaht administration, including fisheries manager Kadin Snook. The parties are meeting Aug. 2 in preparation for an upcoming T’aaq-wiihak opening in early August.

“We are hoping Kadin can have some information pamphlets prepared about what’s going on (with the First Nations fishery) and exactly what their rights are and, basically, these guys (recreational fishermen) need to get out of their way,” said Wiese, adding that there’s enough water for everyone to share.

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