Disgust and dismay were Alberni resident Wawmeesh Hamilton’s reaction to finding 30 salmon dumped behind his house on Saturday morning.
His daughters had been picking berries at the treeline behind his house on the Hupacasath reserve at around 9:30 a.m. when a neighbour alerted them to a large pile of fish that had been dumped there.
“I went to the treeline and about 20 feet to the left there was this big pile of fish. They looked like they were either sockeye or coho salmon,” said Hamilton.
The fish looked relatively new but there were signs of maggots beginning to form.
“It looked like it had been dumped there within a day or two,” he said.
Both the commercial and Aboriginal fisheries in Port Alberni had been closed for a couple of weeks before the salmon were found.
While the sports fishery had stayed open, Hamilton thought it unlikely that someone had caught so many fish in one day only to dump them.
But regardless of who is to blame, Hamilton wishes they had thought before creating so much waste.
“You have to think of your own ability to store or process them yourself,” he said, “[but] if you do take them and you greatly underestimate your ability to handle them, the Clutesi Haven Marina is a block and a half away from where they dumped the fish and they could have brought them [to the marina] and asked around. No one wants to see that kind of fish dumped.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Scott Coulson, CAO of the Uchucklesaht First Nations.
While the Uchucklesaht had a fish distribution shortly before Hamilton found the salmon, Coulson said that the salmon they distributed had been beheaded, frozen and cleaned, while the dumped fish were relatively intact.
“There was no way that it could have been our fish,” he said. “Most of the time when we do a fish distribution it’s a food fish distribution and people that are taking the fish want the fish. It’s not like they’re being made to take it.”
Since both the commercial and Aboriginal fisheries were closed, Coulson suspects the salmon weren’t caught legally.
“There are [likely]some people that are fishing illegally and they weren’t able to sell them so they had to do something with them,” he said.
While the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said that the fish dump was likely only to be a littering offense, Coulson wants more to be done.
“I think there would be a concequence if it was proven to be an illegal catch. It’s a real shame, there’s so many people in need out there, to see 30-40 fish like that, just discarded, it could have gone to the soup kitchen, we’ve done that ourselves because we know it’ll get used.”