female chium salmon

Food fishery flounders: low returns

qathet Living, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Each year since the Tla’amin salmon hatchery was built in 1977, members of the Nation have received an allotment of food fish.

The food fish program uses salmon that pass through the hatchery, explains Tla’amin hatchery technician Scott Galligos. 

The amount of food fish Tla’amin receives is determined by Tla’amin’s final agreement treaty with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and is based on percentage, fish type, and population. 

“Usually, around 900 salmon are taken for the community to use from our river, however, that number changes depending on the salmon returns. The salmon are taken from gillnets in the oceanfront, caught from the river, and are also taken after egg takes are complete,” says Scott.

“Nation members tend to prefer ocean salmon to river salmon, you can really taste the difference. Most of the food fish now is taken from the egg-takes which means the fish that die are used to help feed the community, they are not wasted.”

The food fish program also includes the community smokehouse’s use. Members who don’t live in Tla’amin have food fish allotments, too, so the program reaches and benefit all members of the Nation.

Tla’amin’s fish allotments were negotiated through the Final Agreement Act treaty. 

These allotments are for salmon, other fish, and shellfish. The allotment amounts are mostly based off the Canadian “total allowable catch,” which is determined by the federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard (currently Joyce Murray). This decision depends on the species abundance that year. The fish allotments are fished from all over the coast, from the Fraser Valley to out front of Tla’amin.

Scott explains that the amount of food fish Tla’amin is able to get has been diminishing due to lower salmon returns. 

“We’ve noticed a lot of things changing with the salmon. The peak returns have been in October, rather than November, which is their peak historically. This year we’ve noticed almost all of the chum were returning green instead of their spawning colors. Normally, we see very few fish returning green, it was a very weird occurrence,” says Scott. 

‘Green’ is the term used to call salmon that are still silver from being in the ocean, being green means they are not ready to spawn yet. This puts the salmon enhancement process back, as the fish have to wait in the river until their spawning colors start to show.

“The salmon populations are going down for a variety of reasons. The known reasons are overfishing, habitat destruction, and climate change. We know how many fish we release into the river each year, we just cannot pin-point what happens to them once they are out there in the ocean,” Scott says.

Scott had previously written reports for the Nation on the river’s changing water temperature and levels. “I haven’t done reports on our river in years now, but when I had, I noticed the temperature would rise by 1.5 degrees every year, sometimes it would be 1.5 degrees lower, but it had been overall getting warmer,” says Scott. 

Top image credit: This female spawning chum is coming through the Tla’amin Nation hatchery. It may be captured for eggs, and then given to a community member as part of the food fish program. Photo by Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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