Gitxsan chiefs say they are extending a ban on sportfishing on their traditional territories in northwestern B.C. in response to the provincial government backing away, after two years, of discussions on the future of the fishery on the Skeena River system.
They say permits issued by the provincial government hold no authority unless permission is first received from hereditary chiefs.
According to the Gitxsan chiefs, sportfishing breaks traditional laws.
“We do not play with our fish… we’ve come to understand that catch and release will cause higher fatality,” they said in the statement.
Trespassers will be asked to leave or seek proper permissions and failure to do so, say the chiefs, will mean confiscation of gear and boats although there was no clear indication of who would actually do that.
The Gitxsan Huwilp Government said that the no-trespass zones extend from Legate Creek eastward to Hazelton (90 miles), then from Hazelton northward to Ground Hog mountain, the head waters of the Skeena (200 miles). The watershed includes, Bulkley River, Kitwanga River, Gitsegukla River, Kispiox River, Babine River and the Nass River in the Nass watershed.
The proclaimed ban was first issued in May 2019 with the Gitxsan citing declining fish stocks and Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ mismanagement of fisheries along the Skeena River. Since then, the federal and provincial governments have been in talks with the chiefs.
But last month the province of B.C. left the discussions citing “capacity issues” and “lack of resources,” said Gwiiiyeehl (Brian Williams), chair of Gigeeenix (Up River Chiefs).
The chiefs are asking B. C. to rethink the decision and return to the table to continue the dialogue in an “executive capacity.”
“It is irresponsible that in an era of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), where the province cites an increasing commitment to reconciliation, that it would abandon the Gitxsan Huwilp Government in their efforts to self-govern according to their history, laws, and culture,” said Gwiiiyeehl.
“Issuing fishing permits is big business for B.C.’s economy and it seems that prioritizing respectful relationships and adhering to traditional First Nation laws is not on the top of the list,” said Chief Moolxhan (Norman Moore).
The chiefs also said that B.C. left the discussions one month after hereditary chiefs met with Nathan Cullen, the Stikine MLA who is now separating the forests, lands and natural resources ministry into two separate ministries so that forests will be a stand alone entity.
A request for a letter on how to work together to advance truth and reconciliation has been ignored by Cullen’s office, the chiefs say.
In an email statement, B.C.’s Forest Ministry said that the focus of Gitxsan crisis management team’s discussion – salmon harvest management – is a matter that fall under federal jurisdiction.
“We recognize salmon are a vital resource for Gitxsan and other First Nations and the province has a role to play in salmon habitat management,” said Ministry of Forest spokesperson, Tyler Hooper.
The ministry will continue to provide technical support to the crisis management team where discussion involves areas under provincial regulatory control, said Hooper.
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to include a response from the Ministry of Forest.