Peace on the mighty Fraser River takes mutual respect

As the 2017 fishing season starts on the Fraser River near Chilliwack a local group is working to avert conflicts

It will take mutual respect, and some common sense.

That’s key to getting through the 2017 fishing season safely on the Fraser River, according to the Fraser River Peacemakers.

It takes good communication between users to avert potential conflict on the water, and they have to find ways to accommodate each other.

“Fraser River Peacemakers members will be visiting boat launch sites to speak with aboriginal and non-aboriginal fishers in the coming weeks, to encourage them to show courtesy to one another while fishing is underway,” said Ernie Crey, Peacemakers chair and chief of Cheam First Nation.

It’s a way of making sure the Fraser fishery is “well-managed,” said Crey, with everyone feeling respected and staying safe.

While sports fishing boats are hitting the river for catch-and-release sturgeon or for salmon if there are openings, First Nations fishers are also slated to be out on the water harvesting fish under food, social and ceremonial (FSC) openings this summer.

To avoid conflicts and tangled gear, anglers are asked to reel in their lines before the drift nets go by, or in areas where nets will be cast and set. First Nations are also being asked to warn anglers ahead of time before they take a drift net run down the river.

“Recreational anglers must demonstrate tolerance in respecting sanctioned First Nations fisheries and provide access for these fishers,” said Rod Clapton, Peacemakers conflict committee co-chair, and president of the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers. “Reciprocal respect is warranted and leaders within both communities are actively seeking solutions.”

Some may not realize that designated fishers from across Sto:lo territory are authorized to fish with set nets, which are stationary, or drifted gill nets for FSC salmon, for a limited number of hours on specific days and areas, as agreed upon with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The FSC openings give First Nations a chance to catch salmon and share with their communities. The thing is, sometimes DFO announces these FSC openings on short notice.

Tensions have certainly eased a lot over the years between the recreational sector and First Nations fishers of the Fraser River.

It wasn’t always this way.

Chehalis Chief Willie Charlie was shot in the face in 2009 with a pellet gun. It happened quickly in a fit of rage. The Sto:lo chief’s fishing boat was rammed after their drift net and gear got tangled up with the fishing lines of a group of recreational anglers.

That violent confrontation became the catalyst for the bold creation of the Fraser River Peacemakers. The group’s leaders have spent years working on conflict resolution, stewardship, river safety, and educating each other.

Safety tips are illustrated in the River Manners video:

The “River Manners” Video project grew out of multi-partner effort to show how the various groups can get along with a little mutual respect and common sense on the river.

For all of their crucial education and conflict resolution work, the volunteer-run Peacemakers was awarded the National Recreational Fisheries Award for 2017, from fisheries minister Dominic Leblanc, for “exemplary leadership in building positive relations between First Nations harvesters and recreational anglers.”

For info on FSC and recreational opening dates and locations, see the DFO website at:

www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/fraser/index-eng.html

• For more on the Fraser River Peacemakers, see: www.fraserriverpeacemakers.ca

• To report fisheries violations and polluters, contact the RAPP (Report All Poachers & Polluters)

hotline at forms.gov.bc.ca/environment/rapp/ , at 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP), or on mobile phones

at #7277

• For white sturgeon catch and release guidelines, see www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/docs/ws_guidelines.pdf

• Spot illegal fishing? Call DFO – Observe, Record, Report : 1-800-465-4336