The Hupacasath First Nation won a bid to purchase close to 1,400 sockeye salmon from a Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) test boat. The fish has been distributed to the nation’s approximately 350 members.
“Every year the test boat gets hired to do weekly surveys of abundance in the Alberni Inlet and the Hupacasath and Tseshaht Nations administer that contract,” said Steve Tatoosh, Hupacasath chief councillor. “[The fish] goes out to a bidding process every year. We put a bid in this year, under Tsuma-as Seafoods, our seafood company, and we were the successful bidders so we pay for the fish that they use to pay for the boat.”
The 1,4000 sockeye were caught on Monday and Tuesday, June 12 and 13 in Area 23 (Barclay Sound).
The bid went out to fish buyers all around B.C. The Hupacasath won with a bid of $40,000.
“We decided to bid on the fish this year because we knew it was going to be a critical fish year, this might be the only access we get to sockeye this year,” Tatoosh said. “We made sure in our budgeting process that we budgeted a lot of money for food fish distribution for our community. It was just critical for our council to do something to make sure we provided for our community.”
Tatoosh said since the fish is caught commercially, members are technically allowed to sell it but he hopes they will use it for food.
“We would hope that they would keep it and eat it but I mean people have bills,” he said. “We bought it as a commercial catch so we could have turned around and sold it. We probably would have made $200,000 to $250,000 if we really wanted to but we’re giving it out instead.”
Less than 200,000 adult sockeye are expected to return to the Alberni Valley this year and the Somass River is closed to all sockeye fishing.
During the sockeye season, DFO test boats go out to Area 23 to test fish for DNA, sex and age, as well as bio-samples two days a week (mid June to Early August) for the past 30 years.
“[Test boats] do sets on fish and they try to figure out some kind of abundance on those sets compared to other years,” said Mike Spence, Fisheries and Oceans Canada resource manager. “The test boats will go do the same sets every week in the same spots and we use it for assessment and try to determine what the run size is.”
The test fish, but not the bio-samples, are sold to pay for the charter of the test boat.
“We had enough money to cover most of the test boat for this season but a small chunk of it remained, that’s why we took the 1,400 fish and sold them this week to pay for the test charter,” Spence said.
Once the test boat has reached enough fish to make remaining payments, no more fish are kept.
The first sockeye run re-forecast should be issued on June 29.
The Hupacasath also run and manage an escapement program for the Stamp and Sproat Rivers which is contracted to the DFO to run the programs.
“We do counts, we film every fish go by and count every fish and we also take biological samples,” said Graham Murrell, Hupacasath fisheries manager/biologist. “Those fish are part of the contract, a long standing agreement with DFO for working on the traditional territories, so those fish are non sale-able fish that are distributed to the elders.”
According to the DFO website, Fishery Notice 394, released on Wednesday, states that effective immediately until Monday, July 31, 2017 the following areas of the tidal portion of the Somass River and Alberni Inlet are closed to all fishing for finfish:
Subarea 23-1 to 23-3, from the tidal boundary signs above the rapids at Paper Mill Dam in the Somass River then downstream and south into Alberni Inlet to a line from the Chup Point Light to Mutine Point. The tidal portion of the Somass River was closed in Fishery Notice FN394. With this restriction all of Alberni Inlet is now closed to fishing for finfish. The outer portion of Area 23 from Subarea 23-4 to 23-11 remains open to all finfish (except sockeye). These are temporary measures and may be removed at short notice if the sockeye forecast increases and allows retention.
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