Aboriginal fisheries on the lower Fraser River are out of control, according to evidence submitted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to the Cohen Commission regarding the decline of Fraser sockeye.
DFO investigators estimate 97 per cent of lower Fraser sockeye harvested under aboriginal food fisheries are sold, which is not its intent.
Much is going into cold storage, for later sale, it is suspected.
This comes as no surprise, as commercial fishermen have been complaining about, and protesting, widespread native poaching and illegal sale of salmon for years, when commercial fisheries and others were shut down.
Anyone wanting to buy fresh, poached salmon seems to be able to buy it, and no one just looking for dinner much minds.
But commercial fishermen care.
The federal Cohen Commission cares.
While sockeye returned in near record numbers last summer, a similar run is not expected this year.
Other reasons have been provided to explain the sockeye decline, as well, like sharks, and habitat destruction, climate change. Many people fish illegally, not just First Nations.
But DFO investigators are right – the First Nations fishery on the Lower Fraser River is largely out of control – it is part of the problem, and should be considered and controlled like a commercial fishery. If aboriginals can’t respect their own fishery, why should they profit over other fishermen?
A DFO assessment called for more effort to identify and charge retail buyers in the Lower Mainland, and more resources are needed to step up enforcement.
However, further budget cuts are expected.
And poachers aren’t paying their fines: more than $1 million in fines for illegal fishing in the Pacific region are outstanding.
Profit, even cost savings, should not come at the expense of the existence of sockeye in the Fraser.
Someone needs to protect it.
– Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News