Over the past 16 years the Fraser River commercial salmon fishery has been plagued by turmoil and strife. Fish harvesters have been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy,relations between user groups have deteriorated, the economic output of the salmon fishery has declined dramatically, and some Fraser salmon stocks have been depressed. The public perception is that the situation is beyond repair, and that the commercial salmon fishery is doomed.
This view is not shared by either the Area E Gillnetters Association or the Area E Harvest Committee. While there is full acknowledgement that there are serious problems that must be addressed, Area E Gillnetters believe that the salmon fishery does have a potentially bright future. They note that while some small stock groupings , such as the Cultus sockeye, are threatened, many major stocks groups, like the Chilko, Horsefyly/Quesnel, and Adams, are in good shape.
Moreover, the Area E Gillnetters Association believes that many otherwise harvest-able surpluses of Fraser sockeye have been missed over the past decade because the present management paradigm was not flexible enough to allow for those surpluses to be cropped selectively, while at the same time meeting fundamental conservation objectives.
This project is intended to tap into the extensive practical knowledge of the Area E fishing community, many of whom come from multi-generational fishing families—through a series of workshops , interviews, and meetings. It will take a holistic approach to the problem , considering everything from the current status of the Salmonid Enhancement Program, to the issue of value-added marketing.
It will focus on the principle of investing in the resource for the future, with an eye to deriving more value from the those fish that are ultimately caught. Above all the project is intended to show the public that commercial fish harvesters are not the central cause of the current dilemma , but rather a big part of the potential solution. A big part of the project’s purpose will be in assisting Area E fish harvesters to explore ways to conduct the commercial fishery of the future in as selective,and risk averse, fashion as possible. The emphasis will be on securing a sustain-able future for small independent fish harvests and their families
While the Area E Gillnetters Association respects that DFO has had to make difficult policy decisions over the past two decades—and supports many of those policies—it nonetheless believes that no public policy is ever above or beyond examination and review in a democracy. In a as constructive a fashion as possible the project participants will provide a critique of some of the key DFO policies, including the shift to weak stock management,and the current approach to setting out spawning escapement targets, as well as defining harvest opportunities
Additionally, the Area E Gillnetters Association notes that a defining feature of the Fraser salmon fishery over the past two decades has been the evolving nature of the Aboriginal fishery. The project participants fully support the Constitutionally protected rights of Aboriginal fish harvesters. That notwithstanding, they also note that current policies have tended to drive a wedge between Native and non-Native fish harvesters—to the detriment of both groups , as well as the resource. It is the fervent desire of the Area E project participants to seek ways to bring the two communities back together again, as part of a broader community of interest—as was the case for more than one hundred years. The project will focus on why so much friction was created by the Pilot Sales Program , which was a component of the federal government’s Aboriginal Fishing Strategy.On the other hand, the project will put a strong emphasis on rebuilding relations between Native and non-Native fish harvesters in the lower Fraser.This might be achieved through the exploration of mutually beneficial collaborative activity.
In nutshell, the project will try to meld the wisdom, experience , and goodwill of all commercial fish harvesters in Area E. In turn,it is hoped that this will allow for fresh and innovative ways for all concerned to approach hitherto intractable problems. Offered in the spirit of constructive criticism, it is hoped that the ideas of the Area E fish harvester will stimulate thought,encourage dialogue, and build new relations. All of which is founded on the premise that society as a whole should make a renewed investment in Fraser salmon for the future. In so doing the salmon stocks can protected and enhanced, and the many communities—native and non-Native—that depend on the salmon will once again thrive.
The project facilitator is Dennis Brown, a third generation member of A Fraser River fishing family. Mr.Brown was a elected representative of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union for many years, as well as fisheries advisor to B.C. Premier Glen Clark. He is also the author of a best selling book titled SALMON WARS, published by Harbour Publishing in 2005.