Sto:lo Nation member bands can’t legally sell the sockeye salmon they catch in the lower Fraser River this summer.
The bands stretching from Pitt Meadows to Yale could have had an authorized commercial fishery – as happened in past years – but not enough of them were willing to sign a sales agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
Usually, when there’s enough inbound sockeye to open a regular commercial fishery, sales agreements letting aboriginal bands also profit from the fishery are almost automatic.
Without such a deal, the Sto:lo are supposed to fish only for food, social and ceremonial purposes and not sell any of their catch.
But the bands won’t have to submit to the more rigorous monitoring and enforcement by DFO that come with authorized sales.
Critics who have accused the Sto:lo of being behind widespread illegal salmon sales in the past doubt its fishermen will honour the rules.
B.C. Fishery Survival Coalition spokesman Phil Eidsvik pointed to the estimates of DFO investigators, entered in evidence at the Cohen Inquiry this spring, that more than 90 per cent of lower Fraser sockeye harvested under aboriginal food fisheries were being illegally sold.
DFO officials at the inquiry also warned that budget cuts are likely to further limit the department’s ability to bust illegal salmon sales and poaching.
“It’s fairly easy for the Sto:lo to walk away from a sales agreement because they know they can sell it illegally anyway,” Eidsvik said.
“It might be easier to sell more fish without a sales agreement than it is with one.”
Nor is he confident in DFO’s ability to police aboriginal fishing.
“They still don’t have the regulatory tools and support from their bosses to get control of this fishery.”
Eidsvik said he hopes the issue gets further airing before the Cohen commission, which examines aboriginal fishing again Aug. 19.
Sto:lo representatives could not be reached for comment.
An estimated 4.2 million sockeye salmon are currently believed to be returning to the Fraser.
That’s a relatively small run and the Sto:lo would likely have been allocated “very few” sockeye for sale had enough member bands signed on, said Les Jantz, DFO’s deputy area director for the B.C. Interior.
“They are just going to be fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes,” he said. “If there are situations where fish are sold that would be illegal from that fishery and enforcement would be engaged to deal with that situation.”
A sales agreement is in effect with the Musqueam at the mouth of the Fraser and the Tsawwassen First Nation have a sockeye catch allocation under their treaty.