A limited sockeye salmon opening on the Chilcotin River has been extended until Wednesday, Sept. 8 for a First Nations food fishery.
Tsilhqot’in tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse said this year’s rebound of salmon is the most the nation has seen in five years.
“In 2017 we lost our fishery to the fires, in 2018 the same thing. In 2019 we had the Big Bar Slide and we lost two years of fishing.”
When he found out there was a fishery closure Alphonse said he was not going to tolerate it and contacted Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“They agreed to open it up for us and our members are ecstatic to be at all of our fishing sites within the territory.”
Alphonse said the last few years have been tough with declining moose stocks, and deer habitat burned up in wildfires, the Indigenous diet has been impacted.
He’s also witnessing pride in the younger generation who are out fishing and hearing stories from elders.
“It’s more than a fishery, it’s a lifestyle,” he added. “An elder who was a councillor for a long time in her community said the fishery is bringing harmony to our nation.
Alphonse said the Tsilhqot’in fishery is self-regulatory.
“You dipnet, it’s demanding physically. We aren’t doing a fishery for profit, we are doing it for sustenance.”
Sockeye traditionally have been a very important food source for the Tsilhqot’in, Alphonse said.
“It is one of the most beneficial food you can eat. We lost two of our members to COVID and fishing is going to be one of our defences moving forward. Salmon oil is one of the best things to keep healty and fight off colds.”
Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars has been fishing at Farwell Canyon on the Chilcotin River and said it has been “sheer joy” to be down there in the traditional territory doing something that brings so much happiness to his soul.
“It’s really unbelievable. The catching them is so much fun and it’s great exercise and it’s good medicine being down by the water and river. We are participating in the traditional activity that the ancestors have done for thousands of years, but getting home and actually cleaning the sockeye and vacuum sealing them and preparing them so we can eat them in the winter is awesome.”
Sellars was at home with his sisters, dad, best friend, girlfriend and family all cutting fish, laughing and joking.
He’s been dipnetting with a friend and his family to catch salmon to share with community members.
Originally the fishery was to close on Wednesday, Aug. 25, but the numbers this year support extending it another two weeks, he said.
Growing up fishing it was to take it for granted, but when you cannot fish, it leaves a hole in the heart and soul, he added.
“It is all smiles down there. The fish look gorgeous. We have a band member down there this week who was taken in the 60s scoop and just moved back home last year. She caught her first sockeye this morning. She was so thankful, but I was so happy for her.”
In a notice the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council said it would be monitoring the fishery at Farwell Canyon as far as numbers go and that only sockeye and pink salmon may be kept at this time and all other salmon must be released unharmed.
“Only take what you need to allow the fish to return to the spawning grounds,” stated the notice.
On Friday, Alphonse provided an update that it is Tsilhqot’in National Government that monitors the Chilcotin River and the Chilko River fishery.
Randy Billyboy, TNG fisheries manager, said there are usually six catch monitors at Farwell Canyon, six at Siwash, four roving and one or two set up at Henry’s Crossing Bridge.
“We usually have two at Sheep Creek Bridge during the days from Monday to Thursday and also the Shuswap monitors that monitor from Thursday to Sunday,” he said, adding that project was completed on Aug. 26, due to the Fraser River fishery being closed.
Billyboy said this season’s the fishery has been a big plus.
“A lot of our community members are getting their food fish, which has not been done in three years,” he told the Tribune Friday.
This story has been updated Friday, Aug. 17, from the original to clarify the monitoring of the fishery.