British Columbia

First Nations assembly wants Fraser River salmon fishing stopped due to landslide

Government 'must recognize the emergency situation we are all in,' says regional Chief Terry Teegee

Posted: August 08, 2019

The Big Bar landslide created a massive obstruction for migrating salmon returning to their spawning grounds in the Fraser River. (Gary Stewart/Associated Press)

The B.C. Assembly of First Nations is calling on Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to prohibit all marine and recreational salmon fishing in the Fraser River due to the Big Bar landslide near Lillooet.

The landslide, which was discovered in the remote area in June, created a massive obstruction for migrating salmon returning to their spawning grounds in the Fraser, one of the largest salmon-producing rivers in the world.

Millions of fish are expected to reach the site to spawn in the coming weeks, and authorities say 40,000 fish have already arrived.

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If the fish can't get through, it could have devastating long-term consequences on salmon stock in the province. 

The DFO has restricted salmon fishing in the river, but Indigenous leaders want restrictions to extend into the Salish Sea.

The B.C. Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is calling on the DFO to prohibit commercial and recreational salmon fishing in the province's coastal waters so more salmon have the chance to make it up river.

AFN says it's  "extremely concerned" about the landslide, noting that the Tŝilhqot'in Nation and Nak'azdli Whut'en nation, which are located along the spawning route, have already declared closures to their 2019 fishing seasons.

Crews are using portable hydraulic rams and airbags, chippers, drills and small, low velocity explosives to further break the rocks and create the passageways. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The Tŝilhqot'in Nation, near Williams Lake, B.C., also declared a local state of emergency Tuesday due to the slide.

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"Salmon are sacred to all First Nations in B.C. It is one of the most important resources for First Nations. First Nations are demanding that all recreational and commercial salmon fishing be immediately closed until the landslide can be cleared to give the salmon a chance to return to their spawning grounds," regional Chief Terry Teegee wrote in an AFN release.

"DFO is mismanaging the fishery and Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau and [Fisheries] Minister [Jonathan] Wilkinson must recognize the emergency situation we are all in."

Wilkinson said Tuesday that dozens of people are working against the clock looking for ways to clear a path to allow the salmon to get through.

Jocelyn Lubczuk, a representative from the DFO, said in a statement that protecting wild Pacific salmon is a "key priority for our government."

Lubczuk said there are measures in place above the slide site in order to prevent all fishing access of at-risk chinook salmon in this target area. She said there is also currently no fishing for Fraser River sockeye stocks. 

"We are working in close collaboration with First Nations communities along the Fraser River as well as the government of British Columbia to ensure Fraser River chinook and sockeye salmon are able to reach their spawning grounds," she said.