First Nation considering legal action against Canada in Alaska salmon fishery row

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Tŝilhqot’in Nation Government calls on Ottawa to establish an independent review of the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

The Tŝilhqot’in Nation says it’s “outraged” by reports that commercial fishers in Alaska have harvested hundreds of thousands of salmon bound for British Columbia.

According to a report published last week, commercial fishers in six fishing districts off southeastern Alaska hauled some 50,000 Chinook, 1.2 million chum, 540,000 silver, 34 million pink, and 800,000 sockeye salmon out of the water in 2021.

Read more: Is the Alaskan commercial fishery the real reason for the decline in BC salmon?

Many of BC’s largest salmon runs pass through Alaskan waters on their way home to spawn in BC, according to the Watershed Watch Salmon Society and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, which commissioned the report.

The report authors used catch data obtained through from Fisheries and Oceans Canada staff, the Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game, other agencies and online resources.

“That’s a big threat to us and a big threat to our lifestyle around sockeye as a main diet,” said Tŝilhqot’in Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse in an interview with CBC.

“Here in the Interior we only have one option and that’s sockeye, so we’re heavily dependent on sockeye.”

The Tŝilhqot’in National Government has been heavily involved in the management of the Chilko Lake sockeye run — one of the only relatively healthy runs left in the Fraser River, said Alphonse.

The First Nation suspended its fishery for two years after the Big Bar Landslide hurt the salmon run in 2019, he added, which is why the numbers reported out of Alaska are so alarming.

“To go two years without that food source was a huge sacrifice,” he explained. “The spawning grounds of the Chilko Lake run all lie within Tŝilhqot’in title lands … it’s very unique and distinct.”

In a release issued on Friday, Alphonse said Tŝilhqot’in Nation is considering legal action over Canada’s “unwillingness” to protect their interests at the level of the Pacific Salmon Commission.

In its release, the Tŝilhqot’in Nation Government called on Ottawa to establish an independent review of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, an agreement between the U.S. and Canada to co-operate on the management of Pacific salmon stocks. Tŝilhqot’in representatives must be allowed to participate in that review, it added.

“Canada has stood silent while watching the U.S. permitting overfishing our already mismanaged stocks,” said the release. “This is not an isolated event: over-harvesting in Alaskan waters is threatening the future existence of these stocks.”