The First Nations fishery on the Chilcotin River will continue Chief Joe Alphonse Tsilhqot’in National Government chair said.
In mid August, Fisheries and Oceans Canada approached the TNG to discuss the possibility of closing the fishery, but the First Nations said they would not accept a closure, Alphonse said.
“We told them we would have a road block,” Alphonse said. “We said we’d prevent fisheries officers from getting to the river and we would keep the river open for our fishermen.”
The rationale for the closure was that the water temperature was too warm and the fish were all dying, yet First Nations weren’t seeing those impacts.
“The fish were not dying,” Alphonse said.
First Nations in the Chilcotin have a 24 hour seven-day fishery and the only way members will accept closures is for conservation concerns, he added.
Les Jantz, Kamloops DFO area director for B.C. Interior and Fraser River Salmon panel co-chair, said the fishery closure was contemplated because warm summer water levels were lower and water temperatures were higher than had been seen in recent years.
“We ended up experiencing record water temperatures for a fair number of days in late July and August which was right at the time when our summer run sockeye, which was the bulk of the returning fish this year, were entering the Fraser and moving upstream.”
Temperatures ranged in the 21 to 22 C degree range, levels seen only in 1998 and 2004 during the last 20 years.
“Normally when the water is that warm in the Fraser, we see en route mortalities as they move up. Some make it a long way up, others don’t make it very far,” Jantz said.
“It depends on the condition of the fish and a variety of different things.”
Predictions were for a 70 per cent loss.
“When we have conditions like that we keep more fish in the river so that we can get to our escapement objectives for different stocks,” Jantz said.
As discussions progressed, the weather started to change and water temperatures began to drop, so there were some changing circumstances and initial information from the assessment program in the upper Chilko region suggested the numbers were strong, Jantz added.