Horsefly River Roundtable learns more about First Nations commercial fishery

The Horsefly River Roundtable learned more about the First Nations commercial fishery in the Interior during a recent meeting.

The Horsefly River Roundtable learned more about the First Nations commercial fishery in the Interior when Gordon Sterritt, Northern Shuswap Tribal Council Fisheries manager, gave an informal presentation at the round table’s June 21 meeting.

“The Northern Shuswap Tribal Council is involved in bringing commercial fisheries to the Cariboo Interior and, in particular, within the traditional territory of the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw,” Sterritt said.

“Northern Shuswap Fisheries occur on the Quesnel River and Lake, Horsefly River, as well an area of the lower Chilcotin River and Fraser River main stem.

“The purpose of the fisheries is to bring economic opportunity to the Interior with regards to commercial fishing that is more conservation focused and has the ability to respond to in-season dynamics within the runs that are returning and being relied on for these fisheries.

“The fisheries also have the ability to protect the weaker (populations that are declining in numbers) while targeting the stronger stocks, a feature that the traditional commercial mixed stock marine fishery does not have the ability to do,” Sterritt said.

“The quality of the fish from this area is marketable and the products are sought after by top restaurants and markets in the Okanagan and Lower Mainland.

“The NSTC commercial fisheries are entirely selective, like the traditional food fishery.  We utilize a variety of selective fishing methods such as dip net, fish wheel, beach seine, as well as purse seine in the lake.

“By selective we mean the fisheries have the ability to return by-catch species (species that are not targeted) such as rainbow trout, lake trout, Coho and others back to their environment unharmed while retaining the target species, which is usually sockeye,” Sterritt said.

“With these fisheries conservation is first and foremost in our minds when planning these fisheries and if we determine that our food, social and ceremonial (FSC) needs will not be met or that there is a conservation concern in-season we will not proceed with a commercial venture.

“It also ensures that our traditional economic opportunities are again realized and it provides greater opportunities within the commercial and recreational sectors by allowing more fish in river,” Sterritt said.

The idea of an Inland Commercial Fishery came about in 2005, and to that end demonstration fisheries took place on the Quesnel River.

In 2010 Sterritt was appointed NSTC Fisheries manager and had to build an organization from the ground up, starting with training people to operate small fishing boats, VHF radios, marine safety, and fishing skills.

The course took place in Penticton on Skaha Lake.

A pilot training program for inland commercial fishery workers was held in Osoyoos in early August 2011 where workers learned harvesting, handling, monitoring and quality control.  It is important to note that this fishery is done in co-operation with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Many questions were advanced regarding fish quality, revenue, by-catch, etc., which were answered to everyone’s satisfaction.

It is important to note that unless the stocks are sufficient enough to take some fish, fish will not be taken.

A small seine is used, which is easy to either net the catch and release it, or simply open and release all the fish.

There were rainbow trout, kokanee and very few sockeye caught last year.

There were no fatalities.

The NSTC committed to being a presence at our regular meetings, as well as to have an informational booth at our next Salmon festival.

The roundtable would like to see the day occur when the fish would be so abundant a fishery can take place, and will continue to work toward that goal by protecting the watershed as best we can.

The Horsefly River has the capacity to handle 900,000 sockeye.

As a Horsefly River Roundtable member that is my goal, to see that day in my lifetime.

Wouldn’t that be something?