One Alberni Valley First Nation says it’s being left out of Chinook fishery

WatchA sizeable Chinook salmon run, in the Alberni Valley, has been good for sports fishermen and commercial fishermen but not for one First Nation.

While some west coast salmon runs have collapsed this year, there has been a strong return of Chinook salmon through Alberni Inlet.

“Yeah lots of sports fishermen are limiting out [and] having fun whether it’s in the Alberni Inlet or Barclay Sound,” said Al Ehrenberg, a fisherman and organizing of the 49th Port Alberni Ultimate Fishing Derby happening this weekend.

It’s been an attraction for sport fishermen and commercial boats have quickly filled their quotas but one First Nation feels it is being left out.

On Tuesday,  dozens of Tseshaht members demanded a deal outside the Port Alberni Fisheries and Oceans office. Outstanding issues include roadside sales and allocation size considering their growing population.

“We have a right to this territory. We have a right to the fish in this water. That’s important to our people and it’s been important for centuries,” said Martin Watts, who organized the rally.

On Wednesday morning, fishermen were unloading their catch in Port Alberni from a First Nations fishery for 18,000 Chinook salmon that started last night.

“On average, we bring in about one and a quarter-million dollars to the Tseshaht families for their fishing activity. Without that some of the families stand a good chance of being forced onto welfare. This is a huge deal for Tseshaht,” said Hugh Braker, an elected Tseshaht First Nation Councillor.

“We’re hoping today we get a deal signed and get on the water tonight and the fishermen are ready. They can get on the water that fast,” said Les Sam, who is a Tseshaht First Nation fishery negotiator.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement it has not signed an Economic Opportunity Fisheries Agreement with the Tseshaht Nation, as now, mid-way through the Chinook season, The Tseshaht Nation did not agree or follow provisions in the draft agreement for allocations and management of the Sockeye fishery, which is now complete. The department says without an agreement during the sockeye fishery, it created an unstable situation and was detrimental to other harvesters.

Meanwhile, Port Alberni’s 42nd ultimate fishing derby this weekend is going ahead. While COVID-19 ended the annual salmon festival, organizers said they found ways to ensure the derby could carry on safely.

“People look forward to this derby and it’s a big event. People plan for it and it would also give us the ability to give money back to fisheries enhancement,” said Ehrenberg.

Organizers say the 1,500 spots will be close to selling out by this weekend.

Wednesday evening members of the Tseshaht First Nation blockaded boats from coming and going from Clutesi Haven Marina where the derby is scheduled to be based this weekend.

In 2019, CHEK News went aboard a fishing boat to document the overnight First Nation chinook fishery.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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