A warning by the federal fisheries department that illegal salmon selling was “rampant and open” in the Lower Mainland, especially Langley, is being disputed by Cheam chief Ernie Crey, a long-time First Nations fishing rights activist.
Crey said federal authorities have been dragging their feet on renewing an agreement that allows legal selling of salmon by First Nations people along the Fraser River.
“We wouldn’t be in this predicament if the agreement had been signed,” Crey said.
He was responding to a statement issued last week by a spokesperson for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Region, who said there has been a “significant volume of public complaints around rampant and open illegal sales of fresh salmon.”
“These sales not only represent a significant risk to human health, they also pose a considerable risk to salmon stocks that are vulnerable,” the statement said.
Crey said since 1992, an “Economic Opportunity” that allows legal salmon selling by First Nations has been renewed virtually every fishing season, but this year, it has been delayed several weeks past the usual signing date.
“It’s sitting on someone’s desk in Ottawa,” Crey said.
“Why, I’m not exactly sure.”
Crey said First Nations people are selling salmon without a signed agreement because they assume it was renewed as usual.
“It (renewal of the agreement) has kind of become routine for our fishermen,” said Crey.
With no sales agreement in place, fisheries officers have to lay charges, Crey added.
The chief also disputed the claim that the selling could put salmon stocks at risk, saying licences for sport and commercial fishermen are in the process of being issued, something that would not happen if there were concerns about salmon numbers on the Fraser River.
“That fishery is closely monitored,” Crey said.
In response to a query from the Times, Leri Davies, a spokesperson for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Region, said negotiations with a number of indigenous groups on “agreements that include the allowance to sell some quantum of fish” in the Lower Fraser are underway.
“These negotiations started preseason and are at various stages at the current time and staff are working to finalize and come to agreements where possible within the week,” Davies said.
“As always, it is the responsibility of everyone who fishes, or sells fish and fish products, to know the regulations for the type of activity they plan to do.”