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Natives urge closing of sport fishery to save chinook salmon

Some British Columbia Indian bands are calling on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to close a sport fishery off the southern tip of Vancouver Island, saying anglers are intercepting Fraser River chinook that aboriginal fishermen aren't allowed to catch because the stocks are endangered.

But sport anglers are against a blanket closing, saying the fishery is already being managed carefully, and chances that the threatened stocks will be caught are very small.

Ernie Crey, fisheries adviser to the Sto:lo Tribal Council, said DFO should close the southern approach waters to the Fraser to make sure the fish are protected.s

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"DFO's response has been, 'We're not going to change anything, but let's talk more,' so they are just avoiding the issue," he said.

DFO officials couldn't be reached for comment, but a March 26 letter to the Sto:lo from Susan Farlinger, regional director-general, acknowledged the concerns and said the department will work with first nations on the issue. It did not, however, promise any changes this season.

"It is very frustrating," said Tracy Sampson, fisheries manager for the Nicola Tribal Association. "If DFO continues on with the same management actions it has followed in the past, we will not have any chinook stocks left in the Nicola River."

Ms. Sampson said the fish of concern are early running chinook, which are approaching the Fraser River now.

Native, sport and commercial fisheries in the Fraser are closed to protect the fish, which are returning to spawn in several tributaries, including the Nicola. But sport fishing is open in the ocean.

Ms. Sampson said the salt water fishery is taking place even though chinook bound for the Nicola and Coldwater rivers and Spius Creek are in serious trouble.

She said that in 2007 - the brood year for fish returning now - the Nicola had 942 spawners, the Coldwater had 107 and Spius had 64.

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Ms. Sampson said projections call this year for just 565 in the Nicola, 66 in the Coldwater and 39 in Spius Creek.

She said that, historically, there were 12,000 Chinook in Nicola, and 4,000 to 6,000 in the Coldwater and Spius systems combined.

"When I talk to the elders, they say their horses couldn't cross these rivers because they were stepping on fish," she said.

Ms. Sampson said the Nicola Tribal Association hasn't had fisheries in the three tributaries for more than 20 years, and in recent years, tribes on the Lower Fraser have also agreed not to fish when early run chinook are around.

She said sport anglers should do the same.

But Ed George, a member of the B.C. Wildlife Federation, said sport anglers are already doing just that in the ocean.

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He said DFO has established "rolling closures" that move ahead of the early chinook, stopping fishing when the run comes through each area.

"There are closures along the West Coast of Vancouver Island when the fish come through," he said. "DFO knows how long it takes the fish from move from point to point, and the closure moves with the fish.

"We think it's a good system. It doesn't say, 'You are not fishing' - it says, 'You are not fishing here.' "

Mr. George said sport anglers have accepted this because they know the early chinook are in trouble and want to protect them.

"None of us is against conservation," he said. "We're all concerned that these fish get where they need to go."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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