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Opening of salmon fishery in Area 8 opposed by Nuxalk Nation

Concerns over COVID-19, low stocks prompt protest in front of the Bella Coola DFO office
Jamie Schooner protested wearing a custom mask (Caitlin Thompson)

The Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s proposed commercial opening of Area 8’s chinook salmon gillnet fishery is being challenged by members of the Nuxalk Nation who say it poses a risk to their small community. The opening, which has been delayed twice already due to community concerns over COVID-19, is slated for June 15 at the earliest but as of press time DFO had not given any confirmation as to when it may go ahead.

Hereditary leadership gathered in front of the local DFO office on Monday, June 8 to voice their concerns over the opening, both due to COVID-19 and what they say are declining salmon stocks.

“They’re trying to find a way to do the commercial fishery safely for our people but there is no way,” said hereditary leader Deric Snow. “This DFO office is still closed, every office in this valley is still closed and yet they want to open it up for 300 boats to come into the one port. It’s unsafe for our people.”

Concerns were also raised about the limited healthcare services that are available locally if someone were to fall ill. Leaders say their requests for more ventilators have so far gone unanswered, and the hospital simply isn’t equipped to deal with an outbreak.

“We don’t have enough people to monitor all the boats and people that are coming in,” said hereditary leader Mike Tallio. “There’s not enough DFO officers to police it or control it, so they’ll come and go as they feel and anyone of them could be carrying the virus. “

At present there are no fishery officers stationed in Bella Coola. In a Facebook post the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union proposed several guidelines for its members to keep away from Bella Coola while fishing, including an order not to cross a boundary that was six miles from Bella Coola, not to fuel up or get supplies in the community, and not to enter the community if someone was to fall ill on their vessel.

“This decision to not allow access includes non-resident commercial fishermen and extends to Bella Coola’s marine infrastructure (wharfs, fuel station, ice plant etc),” the post reads. “The result of this boundary is that non-resident gillnet fisherman will remain at least six miles away from Bella Coola township at all times. To discern residents from non-residents, a resident will fly a white flag from the topmost mast.”

However, hereditary leaders say this is not enough.

“We’re doing whatever we can to protect our elders, our culture, our language and keep the virus out of our community,” said Tallio.

As of press time calls to DFO’s media office were not returned. According to the DFO’s notice, a decision on the opening is expected this week.

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Hereditary leader Deric Snow, joined by hereditary chiefs Noel Pootlass and Mike Tallio, speaks to the crowd (Michael Wigle photo)