Dear Minister Wilkinson:
On Friday, Dec. 6 the airwaves in northwestern British Columbia bristled over an announcement on radio station CFNR, Canada’s First Nations Radio.
Mr. Minister, I have several questions I believe command answers. However, before I get to those I wish to bring to your attention some recent background.
In 2017, with virtually no advance notice, your department closed all recreational fishing for salmon in the Skeena River and its principal tributaries. The closure was justified by your staff as a desperately needed measure to conserve seriously depressed chinook salmon stocks. The angling and tourism communities along the Skeena suffered major damage as prepaid trips were cancelled and normal business activity eliminated. To say it was a bitter pill for the community of Terrace, in particular, to swallow is an understatement.
As the days of closure passed it became obvious conservation did not apply to the First Nations community. Eventually it surfaced that your staff had engaged in government to government discussions with the Skeena FNs and a very significant allocation of chinook salmon had been agreed to. As you might imagine, closed door sessions that resulted in gill net fisheries for the same species non-indigenous anglers were forbidden from angling for (even on a single barbless hook, artificial lure only, catch and release basis) do nothing to build confidence that a public resource is being managed according to any reasonable conservation standards.
Now, fast forward to [last week]’s declaration by the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs. Here are my questions:
1. What specific action does your department and government intend to take to protect the interests of the non-indigenous taxpayers of this province and country, the people who pay for your department to manage fish and fish habitat for all Canadians?
2. How far does your department and government intend to take the growing recklessness of reconciliation? Clearly there are many conservation concerns evident for salmon and steelhead in the Skeena drainage and elsewhere in British Columbia. Do you think those resources can absorb continuing pressure by FN fishers who are obviously no longer bound by your once upon a time clearly and exhaustively trumpeted priorities whereby conservation took precedence over any FN fisheries?
3. What do you think such self-serving unilateral proclamations by the FN community do for any future relationship building between it and non-indigenous people in the Skeena area (or anywhere else)?
4. Do you understand the perceptions of non-indigenous Canadians and how offensive this proclamation is? Do you appreciate how widely publicized messages such as this influence the entire economy of the Skeena area and threaten to destroy its reputation as a desirable or accessible destination?
Myself and many others anxiously await your thorough response to these questions at this pivotal moment in the history of fisheries management in British Columbia.