Cap on aboriginal fisheries has to go, says Sto:lo rep

A policy under the Harper government that placed a cap on aboriginal fishery allocations is a still a sore point among some Sto:lo who fish the Lower Fraser River - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
A policy under the Harper government that placed a cap on aboriginal fishery allocations is a still a sore point among some Sto:lo who fish the Lower Fraser River

A policy under the Harper regime that placed a cap on aboriginal fishery allocations is a still a sore point among First Nations who fish the Lower Fraser River.

A policy known as "End Point" first came to light during the Ahousaht court case over fishing rights, said Ken Malloway, a Sto:lo member of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, and First Nations Fisheries Council of BC.

"We had been negotiating in good faith with federal Fisheries for years trying to secure a bigger allocation for pinks and chum salmon," he said.

They had a niggling feeling there was some foot-dragging going on when they tried to negotiate allocations for economic opportunities — or for food, social and ceremonial reasons.

"They'd make all kind of excuses. It always seemed like there was an obstacle in the way."

The existence of the policy came to light when the Ahousaht fishing trial reached the Supreme Court. A judgement in that case cemented First Nations' rights to fish in traditional territories and to sell that fish into the commercial marketplace.

"That's when we heard about this policy from the Conservative caucus, that placed limits on the catch for fisheries allocation under FSC (food, social and ceremonial) and economic opportunity fisheries.

"One of the things DFO has been told is that when they negotiate with First Nations, the honour of the crown is at stake. Well, we've been negotiating for 10 years in good faith. And all the while we find out they had the End Point policy in place and never told us."

It was a big problem a couple of years ago when there was a huge run of pink salmon, which are not a valued fish stock by the commercial industry, but they offered economic opportunity fisheries for the Japanese market. There was a huge surplus of about eight million pinks that year, and would have been very lucrative for struggling aboriginal communities, Malloway said.

Thankfully, under the new Trudeau regime, the government seems to be more receptive.

Asked to comment on the existence of a cap for First Nation fishery allocations, MP Mark Strahl would not address, confirm or deny a policy called "End Point."

“The Conservative government really replicated what the previous Liberal government had done — we established a fisheries management plan to ensure the fishery was sustainable," MP Strahl stated in an emailed statement.

“For First Nations fisheries, we were careful to respect court decisions regarding the constitutional rights to salmon for food, social, and ceremonial purposes and extended a commercial allocation to First Nations as well.

"We worked with aboriginal, commercial and recreational fishers to manage the fishery for the use and benefit of all Canadians today and for future generations," the MP continued. “Whatever the current government might say in private, I hope they will do the same and develop and implement a fisheries plan that is sustainable and fair for all Canadians.”

Hearing there is a cap on aboriginal fisheries allocations was not a surprise to Doug Kelly, president of Sto:lo Tribal Council.

"It's nothing new," Kelly said. "They've always minimized the right of First Nations to fish, while maximizing the benefit to the commercial fishing industry, and recreational fishers. The stripe of the government might change but the government stays the same."

But Malloway said despite all the hurdles, he's been able to raise specific concerns about End Point multiple times with Hunter Tootoo, the new minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Coast Guard.

"We've had a lot of face time, and he's super aware that it's a concern," Malloway said about meeting with the new Fisheries minister. "End Point is something they have to get rid of. There is just no negotiating in good faith if there's a cap like this in place."

They're hoping for substantial change, and are feeling more optimistic.

"We still have a ways to go but we've been feeling better with the new government," Malloway said.

Kelly gets it, since Minister Tootoo, who is of Inuit ancestry, also "gets it."

"I can see why Ken is hopeful about the minister, and the Trudeau government, but until they move from rhetoric to action, and until we actually see the change, I'm still skeptical."

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