By LeRae Haynes —
Protecting and conserving sustainable salmon stocks and supporting First Nations in becoming re-engaged with their traditional economy is the mission and the primary goal of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance (UFFCA). In partnership with the Tsilhqot’in National Government, Xeni Gwet’in, and the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council (NSTC), the alliance is establishing an Upper Fraser commercial fishing enterprise base on the Sugarcane reserve near Williams Lake.
“Our mantra is quality and sustainability”
“At this point we’re working on governance and structure, offering support through equipment, research, and experience,” explains executive director Gord Sterritt, who worked in fisheries with NSTC prior to coming on board with the Alliance just over a year ago.
The Alliance was launched in 2005 under the Federal Department of Fisheries, Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management program.
“When I came on with NSTC in 2005 the potential for commercial fisheries was recognized in the Quesnel system. We started gearing up to do some beach seining, and employing other harvest methods to see what we could get from that area,” he explains.
“At NSTC we started using entirely selective fishing methods. You can return fish that aren’t targeted for harvest, sorting through them while they’re still alive and put them back. We’ve been gearing up since then to implement a commercial fishery on Quesnel Lake.”
Conservation is the number one priority of the UFFCA—protecting salmon stocks and supporting First Nations groups in the Upper Fraser in obtaining fish for food, social, and ceremonial requirements each year.
“We thought this was a natural fit for UFFCA, and we will support the initiative with equipment and the research of different fishing methods for this area. It’s an important concept to practice primary principals of conservation and support First Nations access and rights to the resource,” Sterritt adds.
“There has been a shift in allowable commercial catch, and approximately 12 per cent of licences have been purchased back from the commercial fishing sector and are now mainly applied to inland fisheries in this area, as well as in the Thompson.”
He says that while he was working with the NSTC, the NSTC, the Tsilhqot’in, and the Xeni Gwet’in governments saw opportunities to get support and equipment for a commercial fishing enterprise.
“If we find out there’s a weaker run of one species of salmon, and a stronger run of another we can share the capacity and experience to make an opportunity successful. This will support the communities and provide them with opportunities for employment and engagement,” he explains.
Rack cards have been developed for the public so that when someone buys fish in the area they can read about the source and the methods used.
The commercial fisheries enterprise will provide seasonal employment and supply locally-caught salmon to local markets.
“We feel that this kind of program lets us protect weaker stock within the watershed and shape fisheries to ensure those weaker stocks return to their natal streams to spawn,” he says. “Our mantra is quality and sustainability.”
Sterritt says the recent environmental disaster at Mnt. Polley mine is a reminder that the conservation and protection of our salmon is of utmost importance.
“This is where we really have to promote precautionary management with fisheries and with natural resource exploitation,” he says. “Any place, any time there is an accident waiting to happen.”
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, songwriter, co-producer of “Pursicles,” and the community co-ordinator for Success by 6. She is also the instigator of a lot of musical shenanigans in Williams Lake including “Borderband” with kids and is a member of the “Perfect Match” dance band.