To the St’át’imc water is sacred and so is the fishery which provides food, spiritual well-being and a thriving economy. Salmon and other fish are the most important food items for the St’át’imc historically and presently.
However, many changes to the environment including overfishing, climate change, hydropower development and the Hell’s Gate slide threaten the St’át’imc fishery. Therefore, actions are needed to ensure they can still satisfy all the St’át’imc needs in the future.
As the fishery relies on a working aquatic ecosystem it is important to enhance it instead of damaging it with human activity. In general, the St’át’imc live in harmony with all things and the protection of the natural environment around them has always had priority.
The St’át’imc’s most important food source is the salmon in the Fraser River. The most important location for fishing is Sxetl or Bridge River Rapids. However, in the past it also served as a trading good which put the St’át’imc at the centre of a large trade network. In the 1850s it happened that the salmon runs failed for three years which had severe consequences like food shortages for the St’át’imc.
The importance of salmon is also shown in many traditional songs, dances and legends. However, there are some who question the economic use of salmon as they are selling their own food supplies even though it has been a historical trading good as well. Salmon also helps with passing the St’át’imc Knowledge to the next generation in the form of fishing camps.
The St’át’imc fishery harvests mostly salmon from eight important sockeye salmon populations which are at the Early Stuart location, Late Stuart location, Stellako, Nadina, Horsefly, Portage, Gates and Chilko. Out of the four run timing groups (Early Start, Early Summer, Summer and Late) the four Summer Run sockeye at Horsefly, Chilko, Stellako and Late Stuart have provided historically high numbers to the St’át’imc fishery and their timing is perfect, placing them into St’át’imc territory in August when there are optimal drying conditions. The two sockeye stocks that spawn in Northern St’át’imc territory and only provide minimal numbers are the Gates Creek and Portage Creek sockeye.
In 1998 the sockeye catches reached a number of 103,000 fish, however, it dropped to 4,400 fish in 2009. Not only sockeye salmon is important to the fishery but historically Chinook salmon has been harvested too, however, their catch numbers are decreasing drastically going from 1646 fish in 1999 to 850 fish in 2011. Coho salmon or steelhead trout are currently not fished and pink salmon gets harvested only in modest numbers.
At least 24 different kinds of fish are located in the Bridge/Seton watersheds including but not limited to sockeye salmon, chinook salmon, bull trout, slimy sculpin, chum salmon, steelhead trout, rainbow trout, burbot, longnose sucker, gwenish, bridgelip sucker, peamouth chub, pink salmon, coho salmon, cutthroat trout and Pacific lamprey.
Gates Creek and Portage Creek are both very important sockeye salmon producers. For the Chinook salmon the biggest producers are Bridge River and Portage Creek, however, the Bridge River population has been decreasing lately. Coho salmon populations can be found in Bridge River, Seton River, Portage Creek and Gate Creek. Pink salmon appear in large numbers in odd-numbered years but mostly absent in even-numbered years. The gwenish which is a land-locked salmon is most common in Anderson and Seton Lakes. Steelhead Trouts are located in the Bridge and Yalakom Rivers and usually spawn in Cayoosh Creek, Portage Creek and Gates Creek. The last important kind of fish is the bull trout which is located in Anderson Lake, Gates Creek, Portage River and Bridge River.
The aquatic habitats which are within St’át’imc territory are Seton, Anderson and Bridge watersheds as well as watersheds of Lillooet, Harrison and Birkenhead. Another part of their territory includes the headwaters of the Nahatlach and Stein Rivers.
There are also a lot of habitats effected by hydro operations inlcuding Seton Lake, Carpenter Reservoir, Downton Reservoir, Bridge River, Seton River and Cayoosh Creek.
St’át’imc Fisheries Policies
The St’át’imc have several aboriginal rights especially also regarding fishing. These rights are that they are allowed to fish seven days a week without endangering the salmon, be part of the management and conservation of the salmon as it is also their responsibility, fish in their traditional ways and to fish not only for food but also for selling the fish afterwards.
The St’át’imc traditionally live closely linked together with nature and therefore live in balance and respect with all the people and creatures around them. This knowledge should be taken into consideration when assessing fisheries and the environment. St’át’imc Nation Hydro was identifying possible mitigation actions for fisheries, including some projects that will be part of Water Use Plan monitoring projects. The regulation of fishing is controlled by the individual bands through community meetings with the Chief. The St’át’imc maintain that they have a responsibility given to them by their Creator to maintain the fisheries and fish populations.
Fisheries Management Framework
The vision developed by the St’át’imc regarding fisheries states that they want to continue the relationship between St’át’imc people and the land by respecting cultural traditions and nature, deciding as a whole how to manage the land and resources and recognizing that these resources will keep providing sustenance to the St’át’imc people in the future.
The St’át’imc Government Services (SGS) Fisheries Program’s objectives include maintaining and furthering the benefits of the fisheries to the St’át’imc and at the same time reducing industrial impact, getting watersheds back to their past productivity levels, providing the authority to make decisions concerning the resources and fisheries, creating long-term careers and short-term employment and building more capacity.
The St’át’imc have taken responsibility in the development of Inter-tribal Treaty Organization working together with other First Nations and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). They also work together with BC Hydro and the government of Canada on collaborative resource management including the recognition of rights and agreements, transparent decision-making, building capacity, adaptive processes that allow change, decision-making that incorporates traditional, local and scientific knowledge and responsibility to everyone that is interested in fishery.
St’át’imc Government Services Fisheries Program
The role of the St’át’imc Government Services is to conduct fisheries projects in order to provide the Nation with support services. The Stewardship Co-ordinator and the St’át’imc Stewardship Advisory Committee are obligated to make sure that all the activities will be in agreement with the values of the St’át’imc and community priorities. Other priorities of the Fisheries Program include the incorporation of St’át’imc Knowledge in combination with scientific knowledge, conducting investigations to identify priority management questions, the development of careers in fishery, ensuring safety during fishery activities, analyzing and reviewing old studies and working with every possible method to keep expenses at a minimum.
As part of the 2011 Settlement Agreement, the St’át’imc will receive provisions by BC Hydro which can only be used for funding of initiatives concerning environment and natural resource mitigation and enhancement. In the 2011 Settlement Agreement there is a section describing the Bridge Seton Watershed Strategic Plan which is created in consultation with St’át’imc and BC Hydro. Water Use Plan Monitoring Projects serve as evaluations of effects of hydro operations and mostly monitor fisheries projects.
The St’át’imc have also carried out numerous fish and wildlife projects with the help of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program which receives funds from BC Hydro, BC Environment and the DFO.
The SGS and the DFO have an agreement which includes a contribution of $100,000 to the SGS in the year 2012-2013 and guidance of the Fisheries Manager by the SGS.
SGS will also prepare Annual Fisheries Reports in order to improve communication and organize the next year’s activities.
2013-2017 Implementation Plan
The four initiatives with the highest priority are the application of St’át’imc Knowledge, building of more capacity, collaboration with the DFO regarding management and Water Use Plan Monitoring Programs. For fisheries projects the most important goals are going to be mitigation, restoration and enhancement.
Water and fish, especially the sockeye salmon, are very important to St’át’imc people as they serve as the most important food sources and trading goods. The St’át’imc live closely connected with the natural environment around them and therefore have a big responsibility to conserve it especially including their fisheries. For the Implementation Plan the most important actions are to incorporate St’át’imc Knowledge and combine it with scientific knowledge, work together regarding fishery management with the DFO, build more careers and capacity and conduct Water Use Plan Monitoring Programs.
Implementation Plan for the St’át’imc Government Services Fisheries Program in:
- Evergreen Stewardship Plan for Lillooet Sub Region
- Evergreen Stewardship Plan for South Chilcotin Sub Region
- Source SGS Fisheries. November, 2012. Implementation Plan for the St’át’imc Government Services Fisheries Program: 2013 – 2017. Available at : https://davidlevy.ca/SGSFisheriesPlanFinalNovember2012.pdf [Accessed 03/2021].