For thousands of years First Nations people on the British Columbia coast and inland have been almost entirely dependent on salmon runs. Some estimates suggest that the Fraser River basin was potentially one of the most densely populated areas prior to colonization. Various estimates also suggest the Fraser River used to support somewhere around 120-140 million salmon.
From the mouth near present-day Vancouver to the upper reaches around Takla Lake, Valemount, and other headwater areas there was a pretty simple principle at work – catch too many salmon and die (or have to move to another territory). Somehow the amazing number of nations on many of these rivers had a system for making sure salmon made it upstream to neighbors and upstream to spawning grounds.
When I worked in the Yukon in the early 2000s I learned about an impressive system that made sure that over 90 different nations were able to access salmon along the 2700+ km Yukon River. In the present day, the Yukon River Panel with reps from the U.S. and Canada are working every year on making sure that salmon runs make it upstream.
80% of the salmon spawn in Canada (in the Yukon Territory), however, for many years over 80% of the salmon were being caught in the U.S. in Alaska. Something had to give.
Now, everyone along the river is attempting to figure these issues out. Salmon runs have declined, open sea fisheries are largely closed, and so many people – First Nation or not – depend on salmon every year for things like dog teams, an essential form of transport in winter.
There’s also a very unique chum salmon run that fights upstream to near the community of Teslin – an over 2700 km journey (including past one dam at Whitehorse). It’s one of the longest traveling chum runs in the world; chum generally like to spawn near the mouths of rivers.
It’s not an easy process – however, a pretty amazing amount of people try and work through the issues.
In trying to read the MSC reports, it’s suggested that this certification process was the longest the organization has been involved in at over nine years. As the process:
has required all parties engaged in the process (i.e clients, DFO, First Nation and ENGO stakeholders, the assessment team members and the certification companies), to constantly backtrack and review the preceding certification step and its results in order to proceed to the next assessment task. [pg. 1]
In addition, there was:
a vast amount of information provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the client, environmental, conservation and First Nation stakeholder groups. [pg. 3]
I was curious what some of the First Nation input was – especially in light of the complex legal environment that surrounds aboriginal rights and title (treaty rights with the Nisga’a on the Nass River) and B.C. fisheries. And the very strong emotions that surround salmon fisheries for most First Nations people.
I read, and read, and read (as mentioned in previous posts there’s over 500 pages of reports) – ok, maybe skimmed at times – and not until page 68 of the Volume 1 report does it state:
SCS [Science Certification Systems, Inc. the company that conducted the certification process] made a significant effort (through emails, faxes, couriered packages, and phone calls) to both contact and speak directly with First Nations organizations associated with the fishing and fisheries management of salmon in British Columbia, Canada. Although these efforts were made, SCS was unable to gain any traction with First Nations.
And, in fact, pretty much the only communication with First Nations was a meeting “in the interest of efficiency” between one member of the review team with three groups in a series of three meetings over a one month period in 2005.
One, maybe don’t run off about how First Nations were involved in the nine year process in the opening pages of the reports – if in fact there was only three meetings in 2005 with specific Nations.
Two, there is a legally mandated principle of “meaningful consultation” with First Nations in Canada. A few years ago the logging company Weyerhaeuser learned an important lesson about how phone calls (or faxes, or emails) were not considered “meaningful consultation” when dealing with the Council of the Haida Nation on Haida Gwaii regarding Tree Farm License 39.
I’m not suggesting that the Marine Stewardship Council has engaged in a process that requires “meaningful consultation” as the Canadian courts have attempted to describe it – however, Fisheries and Oceans the federal ministry that engaged heavily in this process and has a “five year action plan” to meet conditional MSC certification – does.