The Sumas First Nation have invested in sonar as part of their salmon conservation efforts, coinciding with their declaration of title rights and guardianship over their ancestral territory.
Faced with a food scarcity for their traditional fishing practises, the First Nation declared the Semá:th Declaration in 2017, asserting their title.
This year marks the second of the Nation’s five-year Conservation, Guardianship, and Harvest Plan, and they’ve invested in high-frequency sonar to monitor the abundance of migrating salmon in the Lower Sumas-Vedder watershed.
“Conservation and establishing salmon-stock status annually is all part of the guardianship and the need for Semá:th people to look after resources within our traditional and shared territories”, said Murray Ned, councillor for the Sumas First Nation.
The work will allow them to estimate by number, species and capturing activity surrounding the sonar emplacements, if conducted annually.
“This information can then be shared with other First Nations, recreational anglers, the Province of BC and the DFO to build transparency, accountability, responsibility, trust, and to conserve, protect, and sustain the salmon resource for future generations,” said a Sept. 17 press release from the Nation.
Approximately 2,000 Chinook Salmon returned to the Chilliwack River Hatchery in the past few months – the third year in a row of significantly higher numbers returning to spawn.
The numbers had previously been much lower, usually under 1,000; in some years, brood targets were barely achieved, according to the Nation. But 1,455 returned in 2019, followed by 2,439 in 2020, and around 2,000 returned this year.
The Nation’s traditional fishing took place three days a week in early July, and two days in August, resulting in a total of 53 Chinook being harvested, while four Sockeye and 12 Sturgeons were released.
They held a Salmon Ceremony on Aug. 10, inviting government and industry representatives, as well as other First Nation leaders.
The stock-assessment project is solely a Sumas First Nation investment, and they say one of their biggest goals going forward is securing partnerships with other nations and the province.
The recreational-fishing activity was high during the traditional fishing period, the Nation said, claiming they witnessed hundreds of fish being harvested.
The Nation said the DFO does not conduct creel surveys on local river systems, as is done on salmon fisheries during the fall, and the recreational-fishing sector does not have a catch-count system.
“Therefore, the number of Chinook salmon retained by the recreational fishers remains unknown,” the Nation said. “Sumas First Nation remains committed to working with DFO and the recreational community to achieve in-season catch statistics that will better inform all stakeholders.”