Jul 11/98: Confrontation over fishery


Vancouver Sun
July 11, 1998
David Hogben

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.
Many fishing vessels on the west coast, both native and non-native, have a rifle onboard. The Sun's emphasis on the rifles may be viewed as sensationalistic.]

Native Indians, some armed with rifles, have been defying the federal government's closure of the Fraser River Early Stuart sockeye run since Thursday. Senior department of fisheries and oceans officers met with Cheam Chief June Quipp and other band leaders Friday afternoon in an attempt to shut down what Ottawa considers an illegal fishery by Cheam First Nation members. The natives are expected to stop harvesting fish at noon today.

Ottawa closed the sockeye fishery on the Fraser River and Georgia Strait to recreational and native fishermen because of serious conservation concerns with the Early Stuart run. The commercial fishery does not operate on the river at this time of year. Indians are permitted to net chinook and recreational fishermen are allowed to take them on a hook, but all sockeye landed by any method are to be released.

DFO acting director of Pacific Operations Terry Tebb said Friday that an agreement had been reached to end the Indian net fishery. "The situation has been resolved without any conflict," Tebb said afterwards.

On his way into the meeting with band officials Friday, Tebb said 12 of the Cheam nets were in the Fraser on Thursday night and, by morning, 20 to 25 illegal nets were in the water. "DFO officers just observed, they did not take any action," he said. "Some of the people were armed last night, so we are seeing if we can negotiate the situation." He said DFO knows the Indians were taking Early Stuart sockeye, not only the chinook.

The decision to close the river from July 9 to 27 was taken by the DFO after fisheries officials became aware that low river water levels and record-high water temperatures would cause high death rates among the spawning salmon before they could reproduce. If the nets come out of the water by noon, Tebb said no charges would be laid against the Indians.

While the fishery occurred during a river closure, Tebb said, it is uncertain how the courts would view the Indian's defiance because there was no valid agreement between Ottawa and the Indians regulating how the fishery could occur. He said the DFO and the Indians will meet again next week to discuss the sockeye returns.

The DFO is hoping to allow 97,000 of the 175,000 early Stuart expected to return to the Fraser this year to reach spawning grounds, some of which are 800 kilometres up river.

Tebb said some Cheam fishermen have been uncooperative with the DFO and have refused to provide catch information to the federal government. "We have had excellent cooperation from all the bands on the river, with the exception of the Cheam," he said.

RCMP in Agassiz said they were aware of DFO enforcement officers monitoring fishing activities Thursday and Friday.

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