Tŝilhqot’in government ‘outraged’ by Alaskan commercial harvest of salmon bound for B.C.

Tilhqot’in Nation says it is “outraged” by reports that commercial fishermen in Alaska have harvested hundreds of thousands of salmon bound for British Columbia.

According to a report published this week, commercial fishermen in six fishing grounds off southeastern Alaska captured nearly 50,000 Chinooks, 1.2 million choms, 540,000 kohos, 34 million pinks and 800,000 sockeyes from the waters in 2021.

Many of British Columbia’s largest salmon pass through Alaskan waters on their way home to breed in British Columbia, according to the Watershed Watch Salmon Society and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, which released the report.

The report’s authors used fishing data obtained from staff at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, other agencies and online resources.

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“This is a huge threat to us and a huge threat to our lifestyle around sockeye as a staple food,” Tŝilhqot’in Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse said in an interview Friday.

“Here in the cabin we only have one choice, and that’s the right choice, so we’re very dependent on the shoe.”

Alphonse said the Tŝilhqot’in national government has been heavily involved in managing the Chilko Lake Trail – one of the only remaining healthy trails in the Fraser River.

He added that The First Nation suspended its fishing for two years after large landslides damaged salmon trout in 2019, which is why the numbers reported from Alaska are so alarming.

“Staying for two years without this food source was a huge sacrifice,” he explained. “All of Chilko Lake’s spawning grounds are within the Tŝilhqot’in property grounds… they are very unique and distinct.”

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In June last year, record low salmon numbers in British Columbia prompted then-federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan to close 60 percent of the province’s commercial salmon fisheries.

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Ottawa has also pledged nearly $650 million over five years to the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative, which aims to stabilize and restore sustainable salmon stocks in the Pacific.

In a press release on Friday, Alphonse said the nation of Telhagoten is considering legal action over Canada’s “unwillingness” to protect its interests at the Pacific Salmon Commission level.

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In a written statement, Fisheries and Oceans Canada noted the benefits of the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative – “the largest investment Canada has made in salmon”, which aims to replenish the stock.

She also said the Pacific Salmon Treaty guarantees both the United States and Canada equal access to fisheries and helps prevent overfishing.

“Canada and the United States meet regularly and report to each other on fisheries harvesting, research, management, and conservation objectives to facilitate implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty,” Claire Tishman, press secretary for Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, wrote.

“DFO officials are aware of the report and are reviewing it.”

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In its release, the government of the nation of Telhagotene Ottawa called for an independent review of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Canada to cooperate in the management of Pacific salmon stocks. She added that Tilhqot’in representatives should be allowed to participate in that review.

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“Canada has stood silent while watching the United States allow the poaching of our already mismanaged stocks,” the statement read. “This is not an isolated event: over-harvesting in Alaskan waters threatens the future existence of these stocks.”

The United Fishermen’s Organization of Alaska did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. However, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the Canadian nonprofit report on salmon fisheries was “unfair and biased.”

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“I am disappointed by what I consider a targeted attack on salmon fisheries in Southeast Alaska by special interest groups,” Department Commissioner Doug Vincent Lang said in a January 13 news release.

Furthermore, I find the timing of the release of this report questionable as it coincides with the ongoing meetings of the Pacific Salmon Convention. The brief comments were subjective and one-sided and appeared designed to derail the Pacific salmon treaty talks.”

The commissioner said he takes treaty obligations seriously and that all fisheries in Southeast Alaska are managed in accordance with the agreement.

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