By Paul Dickinson
St'át'imc fishermen are doing their part to conserve Fraser River salmon stocks.
The sockeye salmon runs have begun, but St'át'imc fishermen postponed setting up nets last week to ensure a greater return for their neighbours to the north.
According to local DFO boss Tom Grantham, all First Nations along the early Fraser agreed to delay opening their fishing season to protect the early Stuart sockeye moving into the Takla system. While Aboriginal fishermen were allowed to use dip nets last week for chinook, gill nets were scheduled to be prohibited until this week.
"There has been great communication between DFO and First Nations," said Grantham. "There has been a 10-day extension on the closure of the fishing season this year, which is a hardship on the people, but they're doing it to conserve the early Stuart sockeye."
The delay came as a result of the early Stuart migration pattern, which is 10 days later this year than has ever been recorded.
Xwísten Chief Bradley Jack said the bands have been working for a decade to protect the early Stuart so northern bands will have a supply of sockeye.
"Last year, we were permitted to open early, but we declined in order to protect the early Stuart," he noted.
Grantham commended the St'át'imc bands for agreeing to the postponement.
"The people really have to be recognized for their patience," he said. "(Last week) was ideal drying weather."
Compliance has been near perfect, he added. During an evening helicopter patrol north along the Fraser last week, only two fishermen were spotted, both using legal dip nets.
Grantham said concerns from First Nations, in addition to the 2004 Williams Review on Pacific fisheries, helped boost funding for this year's enforcement measures.
"Helicopter patrols are the most cost-efficient," Grantham stated. "We also have boats patrolling from the Bridge River down to Hell's Gate, as well as vehicles patrolling the shoreline."
Chief Jack noted that Xwísten has had a fisheries monitor for years, in addition to DFO monitors.
"Between us (Xwísten and DFO), we have someone on the river every day this year," he noted.
After a DFO boating tour of the Lytton section of the Fraser, Chilliwack Fraser Canyon Conservative MP Chuck Strahl applauded the efforts of local First Nations and DFO.
"I think there's consistently better co-operation and co-ordination up country than in the lower part of the Fraser," he said. "When I talk to Steve at the sporting goods store and others around town, they say things have really improved over the last eight to ten years. There are good models to follow up here that we need to follow down the river. I think if that happened, the fishery would be in better shape."
On June 16, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Geoff Regan announced $2.7 million in funding to step up enforcement along the Fraser River during the salmon runs.