It’s time for an Indigenous-led approach to the salmon crisis on the Fraser River.
The call for change is coming from the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA) and partners after the lowest-ever sockeye returns in 2020.
A “blueprint” for switching to an ecosystem-based form of governance was the focus of a news release Oct. 30 from LFFA, explaining that Fraser chinook, sockeye, coho and steelhead have all seen record-low numbers in recent years.
“And as of 2018, one-third of those populations are at-risk of extinction,” said Murray Ned, LFFA executive director. “Closures of First Nations, commercial and recreational salmon fishing on the Lower Fraser River are becoming routine and affect fishing for numerous species and communities throughout the Fraser.”
The LFFA working group hammered a blueprint with these guidelines for salmon recovery:
• A commitment to sustainability that spans seven generations;
• Governance that honours Aboriginal rights and title, inherent Indigenous jurisdiction and law, and UNDRIP;
• Clear enforcement mechanisms to ensure ecological resilience;
• Sustainable funding for governance and ecosystem-based management; and
• Respect for the opinion, voices, experiences and culture of others.
How low were the 2020 returns? Only an estimated 283,000 sockeye salmon returned to their natal streams in the Fraser, the lowest return ever recorded, the LFFA contends.
This marks a significant drop from 2009 when the return was only 1.5 million sockeye, from a forecast 10 million, triggering the $30 million Cohen Commission by the Government of Canada to answer why stocks were collapsing.
The LFFA is working with Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Martin Conservation Decisions Lab at the University of British Columbia, and West Coast Environmental Law on efforts to foster community-driven approaches that support salmon recovery, given the need for long-term planning and Indigenous perspectives in existing wild salmon conservation strategies.
“Without addressing the mismatch between decisions that affect salmon habitat, and the social and economic consequences of those decisions, the loss of habitat and populations will continue,” said LFFA biologist Ian Hamilton.
To this end, LFFA is developing a regional First Nations Fish Habitat Restoration Strategy, grounded in Indigenous law and knowledge and drawing on the best scientific and technical analyses to guide restoration efforts in the region.
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