Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kitwanga sockeye

Just in case folks were wondering why we provide updates from the Kitwanga counting fence we thought we would explain the significance.

Over the years the Kitwanga sockeye have been hit hard by a variety of problems, including over-exploitation by the commercial fishing fleet and forestry related habitat problems around Kitwanga lake. Their numbers are severely depressed and as you can see from the latest fence counts, it doesnt look too good for this year also. Ironically in 2006, a year which saw heavy commmercial fishing pressure as we all know, the Kitwanga sockeye run came back fairly strong at about 5000 fish. However, this is still well below historical numbers which should number in the tens of thousands.
As the stock plummeted the Gitanyow ( and Gitwangak) First Nation who relied on these fish for food for millenia were unable to exercise their traditional food fishery. The Gitanyow stopped sockeye fishing in order to try to save and rebuild the sockeye run. They also started a court action against DFO. The gist of which is the Gitanyow claim DFO did not follow the management hierarchy of conservation first, followed by obligations to First Nations food fisheries...or FSC (food, social, ceremonial). The Gitanyow feel that by allowing commercial fishing to take place prior to ensuring they have adequate access to their food fishery is a breach of not only the DFO mandate but of governments fiduciary responsibility to the Gitanyow.
How this case turns out has potentially huge impact on how DFO manages the commercial fishery in the future because Kitwanga sockeye have a very similar timing to the main enhanced sockeye run. If the judgement is in favor of the Gitanyow, then DFO might have to totally change how it manages the commercial fishery catch of enhanced Babine sockeye in order to allow more Kitwanga sockeye the chance to return to spawn.
The recent ending of the marine commercial season is directly tied to the Kitwanga sockeye.

For more detailed info on the Kitwanga sockeye check out the report linked below:

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